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Title: The Patriot - Piccolo Mondo Antico
Author: Fogazzaro, Antonio, 1842-1911
Language: English
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Copyright Status: Not copyrighted in the United States. If you live elsewhere check the laws of your country before downloading this ebook. See comments about copyright issues at end of book.

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THE PATRIOT

(PICCOLO MONDO ANTICO)

by

ANTONIO FOGAZZARO

Author of "The Saint"

Translated from the Italian by M. Prichard-Agnetti



G. P. Putnam's Sons
New York and London
The Knickerbocker Press

Copyright, 1906
by
G. P. Putnam's Sons



INTRODUCTION


_The Patriot (Piccolo Mondo Antico)_ was published in Milan in 1896, and
has reached its forty-fourth edition, which is in itself sufficient
proof of its popularity; for Italians do not purchase books largely, and
one volume will often make the tour of a town, coming out of the
campaign in rags and a newspaper cover.

Although _The Patriot_ is not an historical novel in the true sense of
the term, it certainly throws a wonderful side-light on those ten years
of "deadly cold and awful silence," a silence broken only from time to
time by the cries of the martyrs of Mantua, by the noise of inward
strife in the Papal States, and by the weeping of mothers who saw their
sons disappear behind the clanging doors of Austrian fortresses. These
ten years stretched drearily from the disastrous field of Novara to the
glorious days of Magenta, Solferino and San Martino (1849-59).

Antonio Fogazzaro, born in Vicenza in 1842, was a child when the battle
of Novara was fought and lost; but when the French drove the Austrians
from the bloody field of Magenta, he, a youth of seventeen, was ready to
be fired with patriotic enthusiasm.

During those years, there was little the patriots could do save to feed
the fire of hatred against the foreign oppressors, and prepare, as best
they could, in secret and in constant danger of death, for the moment
when Piedmont should once more give the signal of revolt.

In the night that succeeded the battle of Novara, King Carlo Alberto,
who had risked all for the freedom of the rest of Italy--for it must be
remembered that his own kingdom of Sardinia was independent of
Austria--discouraged, mortified, and impoverished, abdicated in favour
of his son, Victor Emmanuel. It was no longer possible to continue
hostilities, and Carlo Alberto hoped that his son, whose wife, Maria
Adelaide, was the daughter of an Austrian grand-duke, might obtain more
favourable conditions from Austria for his unhappy country. On the
following day the young King and Field-Marshal Radetzky met, and a peace
was signed, the conditions of which Victor Emmanuel found great
difficulty in persuading his parliament to ratify. But in the end
Piedmont paid Austria an indemnity of seventy-five million francs.

Victor Emmanuel had not, however, abandoned the idea of United Italy,
and could say with Massimo D'Azeglio: We will begin over again, and do
better! Count Camillo Benso di Cavour, one of the greatest statesmen of
modern times, stood by the King from the first. They immediately turned
their attention towards bettering the condition of their impoverished
country, and soon succeeded in rendering the little capital, Turin, one
of the brightest and most prosperous cities of the Continent. The
patriots, the best men in Italy, flocked to Turin from all those states
where Austria or her tools held sway. The Piedmontese government granted
subsidies to some of these refugees, and found employment for others,
receiving all with open arms.

Meanwhile, Mazzini and Garibaldi were working, sometimes at home,
sometimes in exile, while in Mantua brave patriots, among them several
saintly priests, were suffering torture and death at the hands of the
Austrians. The records of their trials revealed such palpable and
flagrant violation of all justice, all law, that when the Austrians were
at last expelled from Mantua, they were careful to remove these to
Vienna, where they are still preserved. The aged mother of one of the
priests who suffered execution appealed to the young Empress Elisabeth,
begging that her son's body might be restored to her, and receive burial
in consecrated ground. But Elisabeth was deaf to the unhappy woman's
prayers. During the long and desolate years of her own affliction, how
often must the unfortunate Empress have thought of the tears of blood
the mothers of Italy had shed! It was Field-Marshal Haynau of inglorious
memory, he who for his cruelties in that city had been dubbed the "hyena
of Brescia," who tortured these martyrs of Mantua and signed their
death-warrants.

All these things were happening during those ten years of heavy silence
when Fogazzaro was a child. We can fancy how eagerly he listened to the
accounts of these horrors, and to the long and animated discussions his
father (Franco Maironi of _The Patriot_) and his uncle (Uncle Piero)
held with the brilliant company that assembled at Casa Fogazzaro. His
father took an active part in the defence of Vicenza in 1848, while his
mother, whom he has portrayed for us in the lovely character of Signora
Luisa Rigey, busied herself with scraping lint and making cockades for
the soldiers. These events and scenes, which so deeply impressed the
child, were ever present to the mind of the man, and the long cherished
project of immortalising those personages and places which were both
familiar and dear to him, was at last realised in the pages of _The
Patriot_, in which, evoking personal memories of the past, he gives us a
stirring account of the petty persecutions and base meanness to which
the mighty Austria stooped during that period of suspense and anxiety.
The intrigues of the rogue Pasotti, the skirmishes of the wicked old
Marchesa with the adjutant of the great Radetzky himself, fill us with
indignation and contempt, while we thrill with patriotic emotion when
Luisa raises her glass and whispers: "Hurrah for Cavour!"--_whispers_
the words, because in those days the very walls had ears, and in her
toast there breathed sedition!

As the years passed and peace and prosperity settled over United Italy,
another question, that of the religious life, began to occupy the
master-mind of Antonio Fogazzaro. Intensely but broadly religious
himself, he could not fail to introduce into his work the burning
question of belief or unbelief which, from long contemplation and study,
had become, as it were, a part of himself. The artistic motive of the
book, the struggle between an unbelieving wife and an intensely
religious husband, came to the Italian reader as a new revelation. Had
Fogazzaro been influenced by certain works which had already excited
much comment and discussion in England and America? Perhaps so; but at
all events he has treated the subject differently, and in his own
masterly fashion; he has spared us the long and tedious tirades of
personages who are, after all, simply mouthpieces, and has given us
instead two warm and palpitating human beings, who live and act in
accordance with their opinions, and whose innermost souls are laid bare
to us by their own deeds, their own actions. Franco and Luisa do not
discuss and argue, they simply _feel_, feel intensely, and by a few
burning words here, a few delicate touches there, our author leads us to
feel with them, to understand and sympathise with their impulses, their
passions, and their weaknesses.

We may not agree with Fogazzaro's conclusions, but we cannot but admire
the masterly delineation of character, the unstudied and thoroughly
artistic arrangement of the work, and the skilful handling of so many
different elements.

The very simplicity and directness of his language give to his style a
grandeur all its own, and lend a peculiar charm to his descriptions of
nature, which form some of the most fascinating pages of _The Patriot_.
With a few broad strokes, he spreads before us a landscape of ineffable
beauty, or shows us the fury of the maddened elements. How marvellous in
its solemn grandeur is the picture of the struggle between the sun and
the fog, which Uncle Piero witnesses from the terrace at Oria! How
wonderful in its awe-inspiring realism is the story of Franco's journey
across the mountains, in the darkness of a moonless night! And that
glorious picture of the sunrise, when Franco's crushed and tortured soul
soars upwards again with the growing light, and, inspired and comforted,
he once more squares his shoulders, and takes up his heavy burden of
care!

Infinite sweetness breathes from the pages which deal with the short and
sunny life of dear little Maria, and there are passages full of humour
and whimsical reflections that must remind the English reader of
Dickens.

Perhaps when Fogazzaro wrote _The Patriot_, he had already planned the
trilogy of which it forms the first volume, but certainly the trilogy
was rather evolved than planned, evolved from the union of two such
characters as Franco and Luisa; and probably, while writing the first,
the author was, to a certain extent, ignorant of what the second and
third volumes would contain; for Luisa and Franco, Jeanne and Piero are
not puppets which have been fitted into a story, but the story is in
every particular the outcome of their personalities.

Certain it is that when we read the promise contained in the closing
lines of _The Patriot_, we look forward eagerly to the succeeding
volumes of the trilogy; and when, after that marvellous scene in the
gardener's house, we reluctantly bid farewell to the Saint, our first
thought is a hope that the master may soon resume his magic pen and
continue the struggle for the purification and regeneration of the
Faith, and, through the Faith, of Mankind.

    MARY PRICHARD-AGNETTI.
    BERCETO, ITALY,
    _October, 1906_.



CONTENTS


  _PART FIRST_
                                                   PAGE


                           CHAPTER I

    RISOTTO AND TRUFFLES                             1

                          CHAPTER II

    ON THE THRESHOLD OF A NEW LIFE                  25

                         CHAPTER III

    THE GREAT STEP                                  39

                          CHAPTER IV

    CARLIN'S LETTER                                 68

                           CHAPTER V

    THE ROGUE AT WORK                               85

                           CHAPTER VI

    THE OLD LADY OF MARBLE                         109


  _PART SECOND_

                           CHAPTER I

    FISHERMEN                                      117

                           CHAPTER II

    THE MOONSHINE AND CLOUD SONATA                 133

                          CHAPTER III

    THE GLOVED HAND                                169

                          CHAPTER IV

    THE HAND WITHIN THE GLOVE                      180

                          CHAPTER V

    THE SECRET OF THE WIND AND THE WALNUT TREES    201

                          CHAPTER VI

    THE TRUMP CARD APPEARS                         214

                          CHAPTER VII

    THE PROFESSOR PLAYS HIS TRUMP CARD             230

                         CHAPTER VIII

    HOURS OF BITTERNESS                            240

                         CHAPTER IX

    FOR BREAD, FOR ITALY, FOR GOD                  285

                          CHAPTER X

    SIGNORA LUISA, COME HOME!                      305

                          CHAPTER XI

    SHADOWS AND DAWN                               331

                         CHAPTER XII

    PHANTOMS                                       352

                        CHAPTER XIII

    FLIGHT                                         366


  _PART THIRD_

                          CHAPTER I

    THE SAGE SPEAKS                                391

                          CHAPTER II

    THE SUMMONS TO ARMS                            411



Part First



CHAPTER I

RISOTTO AND TRUFFLES


On the lake a cold _breva_[A] was blowing, striving to drive away the
grey clouds which clung heavily about the dark mountain-tops. Indeed,
when the Pasottis reached Casarico on their way down from Albogasio
Superiore, it had not yet begun to rain. The waves beat and thundered on
the shore, jostling the boats at their moorings, while flashing tongues
of white foam showed, here and there, as far as the frowning banks of
the Doi over yonder. But down in the west, at the end of the lake, a
line of light could be seen, a sign of approaching calm, of the
diminishing _breva_, and behind the gloomy Caprino hill appeared the
first misty rain. Pasotti, in his full dress black overcoat, a tall hat
on his head, his hand grasping a thick bamboo walking-stick, was pacing
nervously along the shore, peering now in this direction, now in that,
or stopping to beat his stick upon the ground, and to shout for that
ass of a boatman, who had not yet appeared.

The little black boat, with its red cushions, its red and white awning,
its movable seat, used only on special occasions, fixed crosswise in its
place, the oars lying ready amidship, was struggling, buffeted by the
waves, between two coal barges, which hardly moved.

"Pin!" shouted Pasotti, growing more and more angry. "Pin!"

The only answer was the regular, constant thundering of the waves on the
shore, and the bumping of one boat against another. At that moment one
would have said there was not so much as a live dog in the whole of
Casarico. Only a plaintive, old voice, like the husky falsetto of a
ventriloquist, groaned from beneath the portico--

"Hadn't we better walk?"

At last Pin appeared in the direction of San Mamette.

"Hurry up, there!" shrieked Pasotti, raising his arms. The man began to
run.

"Beast!" Pasotti roared. "It was with good reason they gave you the name
of a dog!"

"Hadn't we better walk, Pasotti?" groaned the plaintive voice. "Let us
walk!"

Pasotti continued to abuse the boatman, who was hastily unfastening the
chain of his boat from a ring, fixed in the bank. Presently he turned
towards the portico, with an authoritative air, and jerking his chin,
motioned to some one to come forward.

"Let us walk, Pasotti!" the voice groaned once more.

He shrugged his shoulders, made a rough gesture of command with his
hand, and started down towards the boat.

Then an old lady appeared under one of the arches of the portico, her
lean person enveloped in an Indian shawl, below which a black silk skirt
showed. Her head was surmounted by a fashionable bonnet, spindling, and
lofty, trimmed with tiny yellow roses, and black lace. Two black curls
framed the wrinkled face; the eyes were large and gentle, and the wide
mouth was shaded by a faint moustache.

"Oh Pin!" she exclaimed, clasping her canary-coloured gloves, and
pausing on the bank to gaze helplessly at the boatman. "Can we really
venture out with the lake in this state?"

Her husband made a still more imperious gesture, and his face assumed a
still sourer expression. The poor woman slipped down to the boat in
silence, and was helped in, trembling violently.

"I commend myself to Our Lady of Caravino, my good Pin!" she said. "What
a dreadful lake!"

The boatman shook his head, smiling.

"By the way!" Pasotti exclaimed, "have you brought the sail along?"

"It is up at the house," Pin answered. "Shall I go for it? But perhaps
the Signora here, might be frightened. Besides, here comes the rain!"

"Go and fetch it," said Pasotti.

The Signora, who was as deaf as a post, had not heard a word of this
conversation, and, greatly amazed at seeing Pin run off, asked her
husband where he was going.

"The sail!" Pasotti shouted into her face. She sat, bending forward, her
mouth wide open, striving in vain, to catch, at least, the sound of his
voice.

"The sail!" he repeated, still louder, his hands framing his mouth.

She began to think that she understood. Trembling with fright she drew a
questioning hieroglyphic in the air with her finger. Pasotti answered by
drawing an imaginary curve in the air, and blowing into it; then he
silently nodded his head. His wife, convulsed with terror, started to
leave the boat.

"I am going to get out!" said she in an agonised voice. "I am going to
get out! I want to walk!"

Her husband seized her by the arm, and pulled her down into her seat,
fixing two flaming eyes upon her.

Meanwhile the boatman had returned with the sail. The poor woman writhed
and sighed; tears stood in her eyes, and she cast despairing glances at
the shore, but she was silent. The mast was raised, the two lower ends
of the sail were made fast, and the boat was about to put out, when a
voice bellowed from the portico--

"Hallo! Hallo! The Signor Controllore!" and out popped a big, rubicund
priest, with a glorious belly, a large, black straw hat, a cigar in his
mouth, and an umbrella under his arm.

"Oh! Curatone!" Pasotti exclaimed. "Well done! Are you invited to the
dinner also? Are you coming to Cressogno with us?"

"If you will take me," the curate of Puria answered, going down towards
the boat. "Well, I never! The Signora Barborin is here also."

The expression of his big face became supremely amiable, his great voice
became supremely sweet.

"She is devilish frightened, poor creature!" Pasotti grinned, while the
curate was making a series of little bows, and smiling sweetly upon the
lady, who was more terrified than ever at the prospect of this added
weight. She began to gesticulate silently, as if the others had been
more deaf than she herself. She pointed to the lake, to the sail, to the
bulk of the enormous curate, raising her eyes to heaven, hiding her face
in her hands, or pressing them to her heart.

"I don't weigh so very much," said the curate laughing. "Hold your
tongue, will you?" he added, turning to Pin, who had murmured
disrespectfully: "A good, big fish!"

"I'll tell you how we can cure her of her fright!" Pasotti exclaimed.
"Pin, have you a little table, and a pack of _tarocchi_[B] cards?"

"I have a pack," Pin replied. "But they are rather greasy."

They had great difficulty in making Signora Barbara--generally called
_Barborin_--understand the matter in hand. She would not understand, not
even when her husband forced the pack of filthy cards into her hands.

For the present, however, playing was out of the question. The boat was
being laboriously rowed forward towards the mouth of the river of San
Mamette, where they would be able to hoist the sail. The surf, flung
back from the shore, clashed with the in-coming waves, and the little
boat was tossing about among the seething, foaming crests. The lady was
weeping and Pasotti was swearing at Pin, who had not stood out into the
lake far enough. At last the fat curate seized a couple of oars, and
planting his big person firmly in the middle of the boat, bent to his
work with such good will that a few strokes sufficed to send them
forward and out of difficulty. Then the sail was hoisted, and the boat
glided quietly and smoothly onward, rocking slowly and gently, while the
water gurgled softly under its keel. Then the smiling priest sat down
beside Signora Barborin, who had closed her eyes and was muttering. But
Pasotti drummed impatiently on the table with the cards, and play they
must.

Meanwhile the grey rain was creeping slowly towards them, veiling the
mountains, and stifling the _breva_.

The lady's breath returned in proportion as the wind's breath
diminished, and she played resignedly, calmly oblivious to her own gross
mistakes, and her husband's consequent outbursts of rage. When the rain
began to rustle on the boat's awning, on the lifeless waves, which in
the now almost breathless atmosphere, were rolling in against the rocks
of the Tentiòn; when the boatman, judging it best to lower the sail,
took to the oars once more, then, at last, Signora Barborin breathed
freely. "Pin, my good fellow!" she said tenderly, and began playing
_tarocchi_ with a zeal, an energy and an expression of beatitude, which
neither mistakes nor scoldings could trouble.

Many days of _breva_ and of rain, of sunshine and of storm have dawned
and faded away over the Lake of Lugano, over the hills of Valsolda since
that game of cards was played by Signora Pasotti, her husband, the
retired controller of customs, and the big curate of Puria, in the boat
which coasted slowly along the rocky shore between San Mamette and
Cressogno in the misty rain.

The times were grey and sleepy, in keeping with the aspect of sky and
lake, after the _breva_ had subsided, the breeze which had so terrified
Signora Pasotti. The great _breva_[C] of 1848, after bringing a few
hours of sunshine, and striving awhile with the heavy clouds, had
slumbered for three years, allowing one breathless, gloomy, silent day
to follow another in those places where the scene of this humble tale of
mine is laid.

The king and queens of _tarocchi_, the _mondo_, the _matto_ and the
_bagatto_, were imported personages at that time, and in those parts;
minor powers tolerated benevolently by the great, silent Austrian
empire; and their antagonisms, their alliances, their wars, were the
only political questions which might be freely discussed. Even Pin, as
he rowed, eagerly poked his hooked and inquisitive nose into Signora
Barborin's cards, withdrawing it reluctantly again. Once he paused in
his rowing, and let his nose hover above the cards, to see how the poor
woman would extricate herself from a difficult position; what she would
do with a certain card it was dangerous to play, and equally dangerous
to hold. Her husband thumped impatiently on the little table, the big
curate sorted his cards with a blissful smile, while she clasped hers to
her bosom, now laughing, now groaning, and rolling her eyes from one to
the other of her companions.

"She holds the _matto_," the curate whispered.

"She always goes on like that when she has the _matto_," said Pasotti,
and called to her, thumping the table one more--

"Out with the _matto_!"

"I will throw him into the lake!" said she. She cast a glance towards
the prow, and, as an excuse, remarked that they were nearing Cressogno,
and that it was time to stop playing.

Her husband fumed awhile, but finally resigned himself to putting on his
gloves.

"Trout to-day, curate!" he observed, while his meek wife buttoned them
for him. "White truffles, grouse, and wine from Ghemme."

"Then you know!" the curate exclaimed. "I know it also. The cook told me
yesterday at Lugano."

"And besides, some ladies have been invited; the Carabellis, mother and
daughter. Those Carabellis from Loveno, you know."

"Indeed!" the curate exclaimed. "Is there any scheme----? There is Don
Franco, now, in his boat. But what a strange flag the young man is
flying! I never saw him with it before."

Pasotti raised the awning and looked out. At a little distance a boat
flying a white and blue flag rose and fell in unison with the weary
motion of the waves. In the stern, under the flag, sat Don Franco
Maironi, the grandson of the old Marchesa Orsola, who was giving the
dinner.

Pasotti saw him rise, grasp the oars, and pull away, rowing slowly
towards the upper lake, towards the wild gulf of the Doi, the white and
blue flag spread wide, and floating above the boat's trail.

"Where is that eccentric young man going?" said he. And he muttered
between his teeth; in the strained and husky voice of a Milanese
rough--"A surly fellow!"

"They say he has great talents," the priest observed.

"An empty head," the other declared. "Much arrogance, little learning,
no manners!"

"And half rotten," he added. "If I were that young woman----"

"Which?" the curate questioned.

"Why, Signorina Carabelli."

"Mark my words, Signor Controllore! If the grouse and white truffles are
meant for that Carabelli girl, they are thrown away!"

"Do you know something?" Pasotti inquired, his eyes flaming with
curiosity.

The priest did not answer because, at that point, the bow grated on the
gravel, and touched the landing-stage. He got out first; Pasotti, with
rapid and imperious gestures, gave his wife some orders of unknown
purport. Then he himself left the boat. Last to get out was the poor
woman, wrapped in her Indian shawl, bending under the tall, black bonnet
with the little, yellow roses, staggering, and stretching out her big
hands in the canary-coloured gloves. The two curls, hanging on either
side of her meek ugliness, gave her a special air of resignation, under
the umbrella of her husband, proprietor, inspector and jealous custodian
of so much elegance.

The three went up to the portico, by means of which the little Villa
Maironi spans the road leading from the landing-stage to the
parish-church of Cressogno. Between two happy sighs, the curate and
Pasotti sniffed an indistinct, warm odour, which floated out from the
open vestibule of the villa.

"Ah! _risotto! risotto!_" the priest whispered, with a greedy glow on
his face.

Pasotti, who had a keen nose, shook his head, knitting his brows in
manifest contempt for that other nose.

"It is not _risotto_," said he.

"What do you mean by saying it is not _risotto_?" the priest exclaimed
in vexation. "It _is risotto_; _risotto_ with truffles. Don't you
smell it?"

Both stopped half way across the vestibule, sniffing the air noisily
like a couple of hounds.

"Do me the favour, my dear curate, to confine your remarks to
_posciandra_," said Pasotti, after a long pause, alluding to a certain
coarse dish the peasants prepare, with cabbage and sausages. "Truffles
there are, but _risotto_ there is not!"

"_Posciandra! posciandra!_" the other grumbled, somewhat offended. "As
to that----"

The poor, meek lady understood that they were quarrelling, and, much
alarmed, began pointing upward towards the ceiling, with her right
forefinger, to warn them that they might be overheard up above. Her
husband seized her uplifted arm, signed to her to sniff, and then blew
into her wide open mouth the word: "_Risotto_."

She hesitated, not having heard distinctly. Pasotti shrugged his
shoulders. "She don't understand anything," said he. "The weather is
going to change," and he went up stairs, followed by his wife. The stout
curate wished to take another look at Don Franco's boat. "The
Carabellis, indeed!" he mused, but he was immediately recalled by
Signora Barborin, who begged him to sit beside her at the table; she was
so timid, poor creature!

The fumes of the pots and kettles filled the stairs with warm fragrance.
"It is not _risotto_," the vanguard murmured. "It is _risotto_," the
rearguard answered in the same tone. And thus they continued, ever more
softly: "It is not _risotto_; it is _risotto_," until Pasotti pushed
open the door of the red room, where the mistress of the house was
usually to be found.

A hideous, lean, little dog trotted, barking, towards Signora Barborin,
who was endeavouring to smile, while Pasotti was putting on his most
obsequious expression, and the curate, entering last, his big face all
sweetness, was really, in his heart, consigning the cursed little beast
to hell.

"Friend, come here, Friend!" the old Marchesa said placidly. "Dear
Signora, dear Controllore, and the curate!"

Her gruff nasal voice was pitched in the same calm tone to the guests
and to the dog. She had risen to receive Signora Barborin, but did not
move a step from the sofa, and stood there, a squat figure, with dull,
torpid eyes beneath her marble forehead, and her black wig, which
rounded out over her temples in the shape of two big snails. Her face
must once have been handsome, and still retained in its pallor, tinged
with yellow like old marble, a certain cold majesty, which--like her
glance and her voice--never varied with the varying emotions of her
soul. The big curate, standing at a distance, made her two or three
jerky bows, but Pasotti kissed her hand, while Signora Barborin, who
felt her blood turn to ice under the old lady's lifeless glance, did not
know how to move, nor what to say. Another lady had risen from the sofa
when the Marchesa rose, and was staring with an insolent air at Signora
Pasotti, at that poor little bundle, old within, and new without!
"Signora Pasotti and her husband," said the Marchesa. "Donna Eugenia
Carabelli."

Donna Eugenia hardly bowed her head. Her daughter, Donna Carolina, was
standing at the window, talking with one of the Marchesa's favourites,
the niece of the agent.

The Marchesa did not consider it necessary to disturb her in order to
present the new arrivals, and when she had invited them to be seated,
she resumed her quiet conversation with Donna Eugenia concerning mutual
friends in Milan, while Friend, sniffing and sneezing, circled slowly
round Signora Barborin's shawl, which smelt of camphor, or rubbed
himself against the curate's calves, studying Pasotti the while, with
those pitiful, watery eyes of his, but never once touching him, as if he
understood that the master of that Indian shawl, in spite of his amiable
expression, would have liked to ring his--Friend's--neck!

And the Marchesa Orsola talked on in her usual guttural, sleepy voice,
and Donna Carabelli, in answering, strove to give her loud, imperious
voice an amiable ring. But to Pasotti's penetrating glance, and cunning
shrewdness it was quite clear that the two old ladies were concealing a
certain dissatisfaction, which was greater in the Marchesa Maironi than
in Donna Eugenia. Every time the door opened the dim eyes of the one and
the dark eyes of the other were turned in that direction. Once it
admitted the prefect of the _Santuario della Caravina_, with little
Signor Paolo Sala, called _el Paolin_--little Paul--and Signor Paolo
Pozzi, called _el Paolon_--big Paul--who were inseparable companions.
Again there entered the Marchese Bianchi, of Oria, a former officer of
the kingdom of Italy, with his daughter. He was a noble type of the
gallant, old soldier, as he stood beside the attractive and vivacious
young girl.

On both occasions a shadow of vexation passed over Donna Carabelli's
face. Her daughter also turned her eyes swiftly towards the door when it
was thrown open, but presently she would begin chatting and laughing
again, more gaily than ever.

"And Don Franco, Marchesa? How is Don Franco?" said the cunning Pasotti,
in a mellifluous voice, as he offered his open snuff-box to his hostess.

"Thank you," the Marchesa answered, bending forward a little and dipping
her fingers into the snuff. "Franco? To tell the truth I am rather
anxious about him. This morning he was not feeling very well, and he has
not appeared yet. I trust----"

"Don Franco?" said the Marchese. "He is out in his boat. We saw him a
few minutes ago, rowing like any boatman."

Donna Eugenia spread her fan open.

"Well done!" said she, fanning furiously. "A most delightful pastime."
Then she closed the fan with a bang, and began biting at it with her
lips.

"Probably he needed the air," the Marchesa observed, in her unruffled,
nasal drawl.

"Probably he needed a wetting," the prefect of the Caravina murmured,
his eyes sparkling with fun. "It is raining!"

"Don Franco is coming now, Signora Marchesa," said the agent's niece,
after a glance at the lake.

"That is good," the sleepy, nasal drawl replied. "I hope he is feeling
better. If not, he will not speak two words. He is a perfectly healthy
boy, but very apprehensive about himself. By the way, Signor
Controllore, why does not Signor Giacomo make his appearance?"

"_El sior Zacomo_," Pasotti began, in imitation of Signor Giacomo
Puttini, an old bachelor from the Veneto, who had lived at Albogasio
Superiore, near Villa Pasotti, for the last thirty years. "_El sior
Zacomo_----"

"Tut, tut!" said the old lady, interrupting him. "I cannot allow you to
make fun of the Venetians, and besides, it is not true that they say
_Zacomo_ in the Veneto."

She herself was a native of Padua, and although she had lived in Brescia
for half a century, still her Lombard accent was not entirely free from
certain chronic suggestions of her Paduan origin. While Pasotti was
protesting, with ceremonial horror, that he had only intended to imitate
the voice of his beloved friend and neighbour, the door opened a third
time. Donna Eugenia, well aware who was coming, did not condescend to
look round, but the Marchesa allowed her dull eyes to rest on Don Franco
with the greatest unconcern.

Don Franco, sole heir to the name of Maironi, was the son of the
Marchesa's son who had died when only eight-and-twenty. He had lost his
mother at his birth, and had always lived under the rule of his
grandmother Maironi. He was tall and slender, and wore a tangle of
rather long, dark hair, and this had procured for him the nickname of
_el scovin d'i nivol_, "the cloud sweeper." He had eloquent, light blue
eyes, a keen, animated and pleasing face, quick to blush or turn pale.
Now that frowning face was saying very plainly: "Here I am, but I am
much put out!"

"How do you feel, Franco?" his grandmother inquired, and added quickly,
without waiting for an answer: "Donna Carolina is anxious to hear that
piece by Kalkbrenner."

"Oh! not at all!" said the girl, turning to the young man with an air of
indifference. "I did indeed say so, but then I am not fond of
Kalkbrenner, I had much rather chat with the young ladies."

Franco seemed quite satisfied with the reception he had received and,
without waiting for further remarks, went over to talk with the big
curate about a fine old picture they were to inspect together, in the
church at Dasio. Donna Eugenia Carabelli was quivering with indignation.
She had come from Loveno, with her daughter, after certain secret
diplomatic transactions, in which other powers had had a hand. Should
this visit be paid or not; would the dignity of the house of Carabelli
permit it; did that probability of success which Donna Eugenia exacted,
really exist? Such were the final questions, which diplomacy had been
called upon to answer, for, notwithstanding the acquaintance of long
standing which existed between Mamma Carabelli and Grandmamma Maironi,
the young people had met only once or twice, and then but for a few
minutes. They were being drawn together by their surroundings of wealth
and nobility, of relationships and friendships, as a drop of salt water
and a drop of fresh water are mutually drawn together, though the
microscopic creatures, which have their being in the one and in the
other be condemned to perish if the two drops mingle. The Marchesa had
carried her point. It had been decided--apparently out of respect for
her age, but really out of respect for her money--that the interview
should take place at Cressogno; for, though Franco himself was possessed
only of his mother's modest fortune, amounting to eighteen or twenty
thousand Austrian _lire_, his grandmother was enthroned in all her calm
dignity upon several millions. And now Donna Eugenia, observing the
young man's conduct, was furious with the Marchesa, as well as with
those who had exposed her daughter and herself to such humiliation. If,
at a single blow, she could have swept away the old woman, her grandson,
the gloomy house and the tiresome company, she would have done so with
joy; but she must hide her feelings, feign indifference, swallow the
indignity and the dinner.

The Marchesa preserved her external, marble placidity, though her heart
was filled with anger and rancour against her grandson. Two years
before he had dared to ask her consent to his marriage with a young
girl of Valsolda, of good family, but neither rich nor of noble birth.
His grandmother's decided refusal had rendered the union impossible, and
indeed the girl's mother had felt obliged to forbid Don Franco the
house; but the Marchesa was convinced that those people still had their
eyes on her millions. She had therefore determined to find a wife for
Franco, at once, in order to avert all danger. She had sought for a girl
who should be rich, but not too rich; of noble, but not too noble birth;
intelligent, but not too intelligent. Having discovered one of the right
sort, she suggested her to Franco who flew into a rage, and declared he
had no desire to marry. The answer had a very suspicious ring, and she
redoubled her vigilance, watching every movement of her grandson and of
that "Madam Trap," that being the pleasing title she had bestowed upon
Signorina Luisa Rigey.

The Rigey family, consisting of the two ladies only, lived at Castello,
in Valsolda, so it was not difficult to watch their movements.
Nevertheless the Marchesa could not discover anything. But one evening
Pasotti told her, with much hypocritical hesitation and many horrified
comments, that the prefect of the Caravina, while chatting with Pasotti
himself, with Signor Giacomo Puttini and with Paolin and Paolon, in the
chemist's shop at San Mamette, had made the following remark: "Don
Franco is going to keep quiet until the old lady is really dead!" The
Marchesa having listened to this delicate piece of wit, answered: "A
thousand thanks!" through her placid nose, and changed the subject.
Later she learned that Signora Rigey--always more or less of an
invalid--was suffering from hypertrophia of the heart, and it appeared
to her that Franco's spirits were much affected by this illness. It was
then that Signorina Carabelli was suggested to her. Carolina Carabelli
was perhaps not entirely to her taste, but with that other danger
threatening she could not hesitate. She spoke to Franco. This time he
did not fly into a rage, but listened in an absent-minded way, and said
he would think the matter over. This was perhaps the one act of
hypocrisy of his whole life. Then the Marchesa boldly played a high
card, and sent for the Carabellis.

She saw plainly enough now, that the game was lost. Don Franco had not
been present when the ladies arrived, and later had appeared only once
for a few minutes. During those few minutes his manner had been
gracious, but not so his expression. As usual his face had spoken so
plainly that--though the Marchesa immediately invented an indisposition
for him--no one could have been deceived. But in spite of all this, the
old lady was not convinced that she had played her cards unskilfully.
Ever since she had reached the age of discretion it had been a rule with
her never to recognise in herself a single defect or mistake, never
wittingly to wound her own noble and beloved self. Now she preferred to
believe that, after her sermon on matrimony, some honeyed but poisonous
and ensnaring word had mysteriously reached her grandson. If her
disappointment was somewhat mitigated, this was due to the conduct of
Signorina Carabelli, whose lively resentment was but ill concealed. This
was not pleasing to the Marchesa. The prefect of the Caravina was not
mistaken--though he perhaps erred slightly in the form of his discourse,
when he said, softly, of her: "She is Austria itself." Like the old
Austria of those days, the old Marchesa did not wish for any bold
spirits in her empire. Her own iron will would not tolerate others in
its neighbourhood. Such an indocile Lombardy-Venice as was Franco was
already too much, and the Carabelli girl, who appeared to have a mind
and a will of her own, would probably prove a troublesome subject of the
house of Maironi, a species of turbulent Hungary.

Dinner was announced. The footman's shaven face, and ill-fitting, grey
livery reflected the Marchesa's aristocratic tastes, which, however, had
been tempered by habits of economy.

"And where is this Signor Giacomo, Controllore?" she said, without
rising.

"I fear he is not coming, Marchesa," Pasotti replied. "I saw him this
morning, and said to him: 'Then we shall meet at dinner, Signor
Giacomo?' But he squirmed as if he had swallowed a snake. He twisted and
turned and at last puffed out: 'Yes, probably. I don't know! Perhaps. I
can't say!--Uff! uff. Well really now, my good Controllore, indeed I
don't know!--Uff, uff!'--and I could get nothing more out of him."

The Marchesa summoned the footman to her side, and gave him an order in
a low tone. He bowed and withdrew. In his longing for the risotto, the
curate of Puria was rocking his body to and fro, and stroking his knees.
But the Marchesa on her sofa, seemed turned to stone, so he also became
petrified. The others gazed mutely at one another.

Poor Signora Barborin, who had seen the footman, and was surprised at
this immobility and these astonished faces, arched her eyebrows,
questioning with her eyes, first her husband, then Puria, then the
prefect, until a lightning glance from Pasotti petrified her as well.
"Perhaps the dinner is burnt!" she reflected, assuming an expression of
indifference. "If they would only send us home! What luck that would
be!" But in a minute or two the servant returned, and bowed.

"Let us go," the Marchesa said, rising.

In the dining-room the company found a new personage; a little, crooked,
old man, with kind eyes and a long nose, that drooped towards his chin.

"Indeed, Signora Marchesa," he began, humbly and timidly, "I have
already dined."

"Sit down, Signor Viscontini," the Marchesa replied, who, like all those
who are determined to make their world bend to their own comfort and
tastes, was well versed in the insolent art of feigning deafness.

The little man did not dare to answer, neither did he dare to sit down.

"Courage, Signor Viscontini!" said Paolin, who stood near him. "What are
you doing here?"

"He is filling a gap!" muttered the prefect. In fact, the excellent
Signor Viscontini, by trade a tuner of pianos, had that morning come
from Lugano to tune the Zelbis' piano at Cima, and Don Franco's also,
and at one o'clock he had dined at Casa Zelbi. Then he had come to Villa
Maironi, and was now called upon to act as substitute for Signor
Giacomo, because, without him, the company would have numbered thirteen.

A brown liquid was smoking in the silver soup-tureen.

"It is not risotto!" Pasotti whispered to Puria, passing behind him. But
the big, mild face gave no sign of having heard.

The Casa Maironi dinners were always lugubrious affairs, and this one
promised to be more than usually so. But as a compensation, it was much
finer than usual. While they were eating, Pasotti and Puria often
exchanged glances of admiration, as if congratulating one another on
the exquisite delight they were enjoying; and if ever Puria failed to
catch one of Pasotti's glances, Signora Barborin, seated beside him,
would apprise him of it by a timid touch of her elbow.

The voices which predominated were those of the Marchesa and Donna
Eugenia. Bianchi's large aristocratic nose, and his shrewd but gallant
and courteous smile were often turned towards the lady's beauty, which
though already fading, had not, as yet, departed. Both belonged to
Milanese families of the best blood, and were united by a certain sense
of superiority, not only over the other middle-class guests, but over
their hosts as well, whose nobility was only provincial. The Marchese
was affability itself, and would have conversed amiably with the
humblest of his fellow-guests, but Donna Eugenia, in the bitterness of
her soul, in her disgust for the place and the persons, attached herself
to him as to the only one worthy of her attention, markedly singling him
out, in order, also, to offend the others. She embarrassed him by
remarking in a loud tone that she did not see how he could ever have
taken a fancy to this odious Valsolda. The Marchese, who for many years
had led a life of quiet and retirement in this region, where, moreover,
the birth of his only daughter, Donna Ester, had taken place, was,
first, greatly disconcerted, for this remark was calculated to wound
several of their fellow-guests; but finally he burst into a brilliant
defence of the place. The Marchesa showed no feeling; Paolin, Paolon,
and the prefect, all natives of Valsolda, were silent and abashed.

Then, in pompous language, Pasotti sang the praises of Niscioree, the
villa belonging to Bianchi, near Oria. These praises did not seem to
please the Marchese, who, himself a most loyal man, had not always found
Pasotti to his liking, in the past. He invited Donna Carabelli to come
to Niscioree. "You must not go on foot, Eugenia," said the Marchesa,
well aware that her friend was tormented by the fear of growing stout.
"The road from the Custom House to Niscioree is so narrow! You could not
possibly pass." Donna Eugenia protested hotly. "It is not, indeed, the
Corso of Porta Renza," said the Marchese, "but neither is it _le chemin
du Paradis_--unfortunately!"

"That it is not! Most certainly not! You may take my word for it!"
exclaimed Viscontini, heated, as ill luck would have it, by too many
glasses of Ghemme. All eyes were turned upon him, and Paolin said
something to him in a low tone. "Crazy?" the little man retorted, his
face aflame. "Not by any means! I tell you----" And here he related how,
coming from Lugano that morning, he had felt cold in the boat, and had
gotten out at Niscioree, intending to pursue his journey on foot; how
there, between those two walls, where the path was so narrow an ass
could not turn round in it, he had met the customs-officers, who had
first abused him for getting out at Niscioree, and had then taken
him back to the beastly custom-house. He said that beast of a
Ricevitore--the receiver of customs--had confiscated a roll of
manuscript music he had with him, taking the crotchets and quavers for a
secret political correspondence.

Profound silence followed this recital. Presently the Marchesa declared
that Signor Viscontini was entirely in the wrong. He should not have
landed at Niscioree; it was forbidden. As to the Ricevitore, he was a
most worthy man. Pasotti, with a solemn face, confirmed this statement.

"Excellent official," said he. "Excellent rascal!" muttered the prefect
between his teeth. Franco, who at first appeared to be thinking of
something else, roused himself, and cast a contemptuous glance at
Pasotti.

"After all," the Marchesa added, "it seems to me that, in the disguise
of manuscript music, there might easily----"

"Certainly," said Paolin, who played the Austrian from fear while the
mistress of the house was Austrian from conviction.

The Marchese, who in 1815 had broken his sword in two that he might not
be obliged to serve the Austrians, smiled saying quietly: "_La! C'est un
peu fort!_"

"But every one knows that the Ricevitore is a beast!" Franco exclaimed.

"I beg to differ with you, Don Franco," said Pasotti.

"Nonsense; beg to differ!" the other retorted. "He is a perfect beast!"

"He is a conscientious man," said the Marchesa, "an official who does
his duty."

"Then his masters are the beasts!" Franco exclaimed.

"My dear Franco!" drawled the emotionless voice, "I will not tolerate
such language in my house! Thank God we are not in Piedmont!" Pasotti
grinned his approval. Then Franco, lifting his plate with both hands
shivered it upon the table, with a furious blow. "Holy Mother!" gasped
Viscontini, and Paolon, interrupted in the laborious operations of a
toothless glutton, uttered an exclamation of alarm. "Yes, yes!" said
Franco, rising, his face distorted, "I had better go!" And he left the
room. Donna Eugenia at once turned faint, and had to be led away. All
the ladies, except Signora Pasotti, followed her out at one door, while
the footman entered at another, bearing a great risotto pie. Puria cast
a triumphant glance at Pasotti, but Pasotti pretended not to notice. All
had risen. Viscontini, the apparent culprit, kept repeating: "I can't
make it out! I can't make it out!" and Paolin, much vexed at seeing the
dinner thus interrupted, grumbled at him: "What business have you to try
to make anything out?" The Marchese was frowning fiercely, but kept
silent. At last Pasotti, the real culprit, assuming an air of
affectionate sadness, said, as if speaking to himself: "What a pity!
Poor Don Franco! A heart of gold, a good head, but such a disposition!
It is indeed unfortunate."

"Alas!" exclaimed Paolin, and Puria added despairingly: "Truly a great
misfortune!"

They waited and waited, but the ladies did not return. Then some one
moved. Paolin and Puria, their hands clasped behind them, walked slowly
towards the sideboard, lost in contemplation of the risotto pie. Puria
called sweetly to Pasotti, but Pasotti did not move. "I only wished to
observe," the big curate said, hiding his triumph so that it might or
might not be apparent, "I only wished to observe that there are white
truffles in it."

"I should say that black truffles[D] are not wanting here either,"
remarked the Marchese pointedly, and slightly accentuating the words.


FOOTNOTES:

[A] _Breva_: local name for a sudden, violent wind blowing from the
north, and sweeping over the Italian lakes. [_Translator's note._]

[B] _Tarocchi_: a game of cards once much in vogue in Italy. The
"_Mondo_," the "_Matto_," the "_Bagatto_," which will be referred to
later on, are all picture cards used in this game. [_Translator's
note._]

[C] The _breva_ of 1848 means the revolution which swept over Italy in
that year, after which the country sunk into apparent calm, but all the
while the people, chafing under the Austrian yoke, were preparing for
the mighty effort which, at last, set them free. [_Translator's note._]

[D] _Tartufo_: often used to indicate those who are hypocritically
pious. The word "black" refers to the priest's black robe.
[_Translator's note._]



CHAPTER II

ON THE THRESHOLD OF A NEW LIFE


"Scoundrels!" snorted Don Franco, climbing the stairs that led to his
room. "Silly ass of an Austrian!" He was venting his wrath on Pasotti,
as he could not hurl insults at his grandmother, and the very letters of
the word _Austrian_ served so well to grind between his teeth, as he
ground his rage, crushing it and enjoying its flavour. When he reached
his room his burning indignation died out.

He threw himself into a chair opposite the open window, and gazed at the
lake, lying still and mournful in the cloudy afternoon, and at the
lonely mountains beyond the sheet of water. He drew a long breath. Ah!
how well he felt here all alone! Ah! what peace! How different the
atmosphere was to that of the drawing-room! What a precious atmosphere,
full of his thoughts and of his loves! He felt a great need of giving
himself up to them, and they at once took possession of him, driving
from his mind the Carabellis, Pasotti, his grandmother and that
egregious beast, the receiver of customs. They? No, one thought alone; a
thought composed of mingled love and reason, of anxiety and joy, of so
many sweet memories, and at the same time, of tremulous expectancy, for
something solemn was drawing near, and would come to him in the shadows
of the night. Franco looked at his watch. It wanted a quarter to four
o'clock. Seven hours longer to wait. He rose, and leaned with folded
arms upon the window sill.

In seven hours another life would begin for him. Beyond the few persons
who were to have a part in the event, not even the air itself knew that
that same evening, towards eleven o'clock, Don Franco Maironi would wed
Signorina Luisa Rigey.

For some time Signora Teresa Rigey, Luisa's mother, had, in all
sincerity, begged Franco to bend to his grandmother's will, to abstain
from visiting their house, and to think no more of Luisa, who, on her
part, was content, for the dignity of the family, and out of respect for
her mother, that all official relations with Don Franco should cease.
She did not, however, doubt that he would remain faithful to her, and
considered herself bound to him for life. His grandmother was not aware
that he was now privately reading law, in order that by following a
profession, he might be able to maintain himself. But, as a result of so
much anxiety, Signora Rigey contracted a heart trouble, which grew
suddenly worse towards the end of August, 1851. Franco wrote to her,
begging to be allowed at least, to visit her, since it was not possible
for him to nurse her "as would have been his duty." The lady did not
feel justified in consenting to this, and the young man, in despair,
gave her to understand that he looked upon Luisa as his affianced wife
before God, and that he would rather die than to give her up. Then the
poor mother, conscious that her life was ebbing day by day, distressed
by the uncertain position of her beloved child, and convinced of the
young man's strength of purpose, conceived a great longing that--as the
marriage would surely take place--it should be celebrated as soon as
possible. Everything was arranged in haste, with the aid of the curate
of Castello and of Signora Rigey's brother, the civil engineer Ribera,
of Oria, who was in the service of the Imperial and Royal Office of
Public Works, at Como. The understanding was as follows: The marriage
should be celebrated secretly; Franco should remain with his
grandmother, and Luisa with her mother, until such a time as they should
deem it opportune to acknowledge their union to the Marchesa. Franco
relied greatly upon the support of Monsignor Benaglia, Bishop of Lodi,
and an old friend of the family, but before he was asked to interfere,
the decisive step must be taken. If (as in all probability would be the
case) the Marchesa hardened her heart against them, the young couple and
Signora Rigey would take up their abode in a house in Oria, belonging to
the engineer Ribera, a bachelor who was supporting his sister's family,
and would now accept Franco in place of a son.

       *       *       *       *       *

In seven hours then!

The window overlooked the landing-place and the strip of garden in front
of the villa, on the lake side. When he first fell in love, Franco used
to stand there and watch for the coming of a certain boat, from which
would spring a slim little person, as light as air, but who never, never
looked towards his window. At last, one day he had gone down to meet
her, and she had waited a moment before jumping out, that she might
accept his helping hand--which, indeed, was most unnecessary. Down there
in the garden he had given her a flower, for the first time, the
sweet-smelling flower of the _Mandevilia suaveolens_. Down there, on
another occasion, he had cut his finger rather deeply with his penknife,
while gathering a little branch of roses for her, and she, by the
anxiety she displayed, had given him a sweet proof of her love. How many
excursions to the solitary slopes of Monte Bisgnago, on the other side,
he had made with her and with other friends, before his grandmother
found out! How many lunches and suppers at the little inn at Doi! Franco
would come home with the sweetness of the many glances exchanged still
lingering in his heart, and shutting himself up in his room, would
recall them all, revelling in them in memory. These first emotions of
his love now rushed into his mind, not one by one, but all together,
from the waters and from the gloomy shores, where his fixed gaze seemed
to lose itself in the shadowy past rather than in the misty present.
Thus, as he neared the goal, he thought of the first steps he had taken
on this long road, of the unforeseen incidents, of the aspect of this
much-longed-for union, so different in reality from what it had appeared
in his dreams. He looked back upon the time of the _mandevilia_ and the
roses, of the excursions on the lake and among the hills. Certainly, at
that time, he did not dream he would attain his object thus, secretly,
and surrounded by so many difficulties, so much pain. Still, he thought
that if the wedding had taken place openly, with the customary proem of
official ceremonies, of contracts, congratulations, visits, and dinners,
all this would have been even more wearisome and repugnant to his love
than the opposition he had met with.

He was aroused by the voice of the prefect, calling to him from the
garden, to announce the departure of the Carabellis. Franco reflected
that if he went down he would be obliged to offer some apologies, and he
preferred not to make his appearance. "You should have smashed the plate
on his face!" the prefect called up to him, his hands framing his mouth.
"You should have smashed it on his face!"

Then he turned away, and Franco saw the Carabellis' boatman go down to
the shore to prepare the boat. He left the window, and returning to the
thoughts which had occupied him first of all, he opened his chest of
drawers, and stood absently contemplating an embroidered shirt front,
where certain small diamond studs his father had worn at his own
wedding, were already sparkling. He disliked the idea of going to the
altar without some outward sign of festivity, but of course, this sign
must not be too apparent.

In the iris-scented chest of drawers everything was arranged with that
order which denotes a cultured spirit, and no one was allowed to touch
its contents save Franco himself. But the chairs, the writing table, the
piano, were heaped with such disorder that it would seem as if a
hurricane of books and papers had swept in at the two windows. Certain
law books were slumbering under an inch of dust, but not a single leaf
of the little gardenia, growing in a pot on the sill of the east window,
showed a speck of dust. These indications were sufficient to suggest the
whimsical rule of a poet. A glance at the books and papers would have
given conclusive proof of this.

Franco was passionately fond of poetry, and was a true poet in the
exquisite delicacy of his instincts. As a writer of verse he could be
ranked only as an indifferent amateur, wanting in originality. His
favourite models were Foscolo and Giusti. He worshipped them fervently,
and pillaged them both, for his genius, which was both satirical and
enthusiastic, was not capable of creating a style of its own, and must
content itself with imitating others. It is only fair to remark that
young men in those days generally possessed a classical culture such as
has since become most exceptional, and that through the classics
themselves they learned to respect the art of imitation, as a
praiseworthy and virtuous practice.

Franco liked to improvise on the piano with some of these verses before
his eyes. Even more devoted to music than to poetry, he had himself
purchased this piano for one hundred and fifty _svanziche_, from the
organist at Loggio, because the poor Viennese instrument, belonging to
his grandmother, which was always wrapped up and must be handled
carefully, like a gouty member of the family, was not adapted to his
requirements. The organist's instrument, which had been thumped and
banged upon by two generations of hands, hardened by contact with the
pickaxe, now sent forth only a funny little nasal voice, which rose
above a faint tinkling, as of many tiny glasses standing too close
together. Franco was almost oblivious to this. As soon as he had placed
his hands upon the instrument his imagination would take fire; the
composer's enthusiasm would enter into him, and, in the heat of the
creative passion, a thread of sound sufficed to permeate him with the
spirit of music, and absolutely to intoxicate him. An Erard would have
embarrassed him, would have left less room for fancy, would, in a word,
have been less dear to him than his spinet.

Franco possessed too many talents, too many different inclinations, too
much impetuosity, too little vanity and perhaps also, too little
will-power to undertake that tiresome, methodical, manual labour, which
is indispensable in order to become a pianist. Nevertheless, Viscontini
was enthusiastic about the style of playing, and his fiancée Luisa,
though she did not entirely share his classical tastes, honestly admired
his touch. When, being pressed to do so, he would make the organ at
Cressogno roar and groan in the approved classic manner, the good
people, overwhelmed by the music and the honour, would stare at him with
open mouths and reverent eyes, as they would have stared at some
preacher, whose sermon they did not understand. But notwithstanding all
this, Franco could not have held his own in a city drawing-room, against
the majority of feeble amateurs, incapable even of understanding and
loving music. All, or almost all of them would have shown themselves his
superiors in agility and in precision, and would have gathered in more
applause, even though no one of them had succeeded in making the piano
sing as he made it sing, especially in the adagios of Bellini and of
Beethoven, playing with his soul in his throat, in his eyes, in the
muscles of his face, in the tendons of his hands, which seemed one with
the chords of the piano.

Another passion of his was for old pictures. The walls of his room held
several, most of which were daubs. Never having travelled he had little
experience. His fancy was quick to take fire, and, obliged as he was to
fit his ample desires to his scant means, he was credulous concerning
the alleged good fortune of other ignorant purchasers, and often allowed
himself to be influenced by them, to be blinded and led into buying
certain dirty rags, which, if they cost little, were worth still less.
The only passably good things he possessed were a head, in the style of
Morone, and a Madonna and Child, after the manner of Carlo Dolci.
Franco, however, baptised these two little pictures with the names of
Morone and Carlo Dolci, without further qualification.

When he had re-read and enjoyed some lines inspired by the hypocritical
Pasotti, he once more hunted in the chaos of his desk, and drew forth a
small sheet of notepaper, upon which he intended to write to Monsignor
Benaglia, the only person who, in the future, might be able to influence
his grandmother in his favour. He felt it his duty to inform him of the
step he was about to take, of the reasons which had forced his fiancée
and himself to resort to this painful subterfuge, of the hope they
cherished that he would help them when the time came to confess all to
the Marchesa. He was still reflecting, pen in hand, when the Carabellis'
boat passed beneath his window. Soon after he heard the Marchese's
gondola glide by, followed presently by Pin's boat. He expected that his
grandmother would send for him, now that she was alone, but she did not
do so. He waited some time, expecting to be summoned, then he began to
think of his letter again, and reflected so long, re-wrote the
introduction so many times, and got on so slowly, that before he had
finished he was obliged to light the lamp.

The end was easier. He begged the old Bishop's prayers for his Luisa and
for himself, and expressed a faith in God so perfect and so pure, that
the most unbelieving heart must have been touched by it.

Fiery and impetuous as he was, still Franco possessed the calm and
simple faith of a little child. Entirely free from pride, a stranger to
philosophical meditations, he was ignorant of that thirst for
intellectual liberty which torments young men, when their senses begin
to find themselves hampered by that strong curb--positive beliefs. He
had never for an instant doubted his religion, and performed all the
duties it prescribed without once asking himself if it be reasonable to
act and believe thus. Still he had nothing of the mystic or of the
ascetic. His intellect, though ardent and poetic, was, at the same time,
clear and positive. Devoted as he was to nature and to art, and
attracted by all the pleasing aspects of life, he would naturally shrink
from mysticism. He had not acquired his faith; he had never concentrated
all his thoughts upon it for any length of time, therefore it was not
possible that it should have penetrated all his sentiments. Religion was
to him what science is to the student, whose first thought is school,
where he studies diligently, having no peace until he has done his home
tasks, and is prepared for the next lesson, but who, once his duty is
performed, thinks no more either of teachers or of books, and does not
feel the need of regulating his actions according to scientific
conclusions or scholastic programmes. Therefore it would often seem that
Franco's life was influenced by nothing else than his warm and generous
heart, his passionate inclinations, his lively impressions, and the
impulses of his honest nature, which was offended by every kind of
untruth and meanness, while he chafed under contradiction, and was
incapable of deceit.

He had just sealed his letter when some one knocked at the door. The
Marchesa had sent to summon Don Franco downstairs to recite the Rosary.
At Casa Maironi they recited the Rosary every evening between seven and
eight, and the servants were obliged to be present. The Marchesa herself
intoned the prayers, enthroned on her sofa, her sleepy eyes roving over
the backs and legs of the worshippers, kneeling, some in one position,
some in another, some in the light best adapted to set off a devotional
attitude, and others in the shadow which would favour a comfortable, but
forbidden nap. Franco entered the room as the nasal voice was repeating
the sweet words: "_Ave Maria, gratia plena_," with that drawling unction
which always inspired him with a wild desire to become a Turk. The young
man flung himself down in a dark corner, and never opened his lips. It
was impossible for him to answer that irritating voice with fitting
devotion. He fell to imagining what the coming interview would be like,
and preparing caustic answers.

When the Rosary was finished the Marchesa waited a moment and then
pronounced the words consecrated by long usage--

"Carlotta, Friend."

It was the duty of Carlotta, the Marchesa's old maid, to take Friend in
her arms, and carry him off to bed, as soon as the Rosary was finished.

"He is here, Signora Marchesa," said Carlotta.

But Friend, though indeed he had been there, was somewhere else when she
bent down with outstretched hand. That evening old Friend was in good
spirits, and determined to play at not being caught. He would tempt
Carlotta, and then slip through her fingers, taking refuge under the
piano, or under the table, from whence he would peer out at the poor
woman with ironical waggings of his tail, while Carlotta's lips said,
"Come, come, dear!" and her heart said, "Ugly beast!"

"Friend!" exclaimed the Marchesa. "That will do, Friend! Be good!"

Franco was boiling. The nasty little monster, imbued with his mistress'
arrogance and egotism, paused at his feet, and Franco rolled him roughly
towards Carlotta, who grabbed him, and punished him with an angry
squeeze, and then carried him off, answering his whines with deceitful
words of pity. "What did they do to you, poor Friend? What did they do
to you? Tell us all about it!"

The Marchesa made no remarks, nor did her marble countenance betray her
feelings. She ordered the footman to tell the prefect of the Caravina,
or any one else who might call, that his mistress had retired. Franco
started to leave the room behind the servants, but checked himself at
once, that he might not appear to be running away. He took a number of
the _Imperial and Royal Gazette_ of Milan from the mantel-shelf, and
seating himself near his grandmother, began reading while he waited.

"I congratulate you heartily on the good manners and fine sentiments you
displayed to us to-day," the sleepy voice began, almost immediately.

"I accept your congratulations," Franco retorted, without raising his
eyes from his paper.

"Well done, my dear!" his immovable grandmother replied, and added: "I
am glad that young girl had the opportunity of seeing you as you are,
because, supposing she may have heard of a certain project, she will now
be very glad it is no longer thought of."

"Then we are both satisfied!" said Franco.

"You cannot in the least tell if you are going to be satisfied.
Especially if you still hold the views you once held."

Upon this, Franco put his paper down, and looked his grandmother full in
the face.

"What would happen," he said, "if I still held the same views I once
held?"

This time he did not speak in a challenging tone, but with quiet
seriousness.

"Ah! That is right!" the Marchesa exclaimed. "Let us speak plainly! I
hope and believe that a certain event will never take place, but should
it take place, do not flatter yourself that there will be anything for
you at my death, for I have already arranged matters so that there will
be nothing."

"Oh! as to that----" the young man began, with indifference.

"That is the score you would have to settle with me," the Marchesa
continued. "Then there would be a score to settle with God."

"How is that?" Franco questioned. "God shall come first with me, and you
afterwards!"

When the Marchesa was caught in a mistake she always talked straight on
as if nothing had happened.

"And it will be a heavy score," said she.

"But it must be settled first!" Franco insisted.

"Because," the formidable old woman continued, "a good Christian is in
duty bound to obey his father and his mother, and I represent both your
father and your mother."

If the one was obstinate, the other was no less so.

"But God comes first!" said he.

The Marchesa rang the bell and closed the conversation thus--

"Now we understand each other perfectly."

When Carlotta entered she rose from the sofa, and said, placidly--

"Good-night."

"Good-night," Franco answered, and resumed the _Milan Gazette_.

As soon as his grandmother had left the room he flung the paper aside,
clenched his fists, and giving vent to his anger in a sort of furious
snort, sprang to his feet, saying aloud--

"Ah! It is better so! Better, better so!" It was better so, he continued
to assure himself mutely. Better never to bring Luisa to this accursed
house, better never to oblige her to bear this rule, this arrogance,
this voice, this face! Better to live on bread and water, and look to
hard work for the rest, rather than to accept anything from his
grandmother's hand. Better become a gardener, d---- it! a boatman, or a
charcoal burner!

He went up to his room determined to break with all obligations. "A
score to settle with God!" he exclaimed, banging the door behind him. "A
score to settle with God if I marry Luisa! Ah! after all, what do I
care? Let them see me, spy upon me, bring her the news. Let them tell
her, let them sing it to her in every key. I shall be delighted!"

He dressed himself in feverish haste, knocking against the chairs, and
closing the drawers with a bang. In his recklessness he put on a black
suit, went noisily downstairs, called the old footman, told him he
should be out all night, and, not heeding the half-astonished,
half-terrified face of the poor fellow, who was devoted to him, rushed
into the street, and was lost in the darkness.

       *       *       *       *       *

He had been gone two or three minutes when the Marchesa, who was already
in bed, sent Carlotta to see who had come running downstairs. Carlotta
reported that it was Don Franco, and was at once dispatched again on a
second errand. "What did Don Franco want?" This time the answer was,
that Don Franco had gone out for a few moments. The "few moments" was
added out of kindness by the old servant. The Marchesa told Carlotta to
go away, but not to put out the light. "You will return when I ring,"
said she.

It was past midnight when the bell sounded.

The maid hurried to her mistress.

"Is Don Franco still out?"

"Yes, Signora Marchesa."

"Put out the light. Take your knitting and wait in the ante-room. When
he returns come and tell me."

Having given these orders, the Marchesa rolled over on her side, turning
her face towards the wall, and leaving the amazed and ill-pleased maid
to stare at that white, smooth, impenetrable enigma, her night-cap.



CHAPTER III

THE GREAT STEP


That same evening at exactly ten o'clock the engineer Ribera knocked
gently twice on the door of Signor Giacomo Puttini's house at Albogasio
Superiore. Presently a window above his head was opened, and a little,
old, clean-shaven face of "Sior Zacomo" himself appeared in the
moonlight.

"Most worshipful engineer, my respects!" said he. "The servant is coming
down to let you in."

"That is not necessary," the other answered. "I am not coming up. It is
time to start, so you had better join me at once."

Signor Giacomo began to puff and wink hard.

"You must pardon me," he said, in his peculiar dialect, which was a
mixture of many elements. "You must pardon me, most worshipful engineer,
but I really need----"

"Need what?" said the engineer, somewhat annoyed. The door opened, and
the keen and yellow face of the servant appeared.

"Oh! _Scior Parento!_ Sir Relative!" said she respectfully. She claimed
I know not what degree of relationship with the engineer's family, and
always addressed him thus. "At this hour? Have you perhaps been to see
the _Sciora Parenta_? The Lady Relative?"

The "Lady Relative" was the engineer's sister, Signora Rigey.

Ribera answered shortly: "Oh! Marianna! How are you?" and went upstairs
followed by Marianna, carrying the light.

"My respects," Signor Giacomo began, coming towards him with another
light. "I understand and recognise the great inconvenience I am causing,
but really----"

Signor Giacomo's small, clean-shaven, pink face, rose above an enormous
white stock, and a lean little body, buttoned up in a great, black
overcoat, and in the convulsive workings of his lips and eyebrows as
well as in his troubled eyes, the most comical anxiety was expressed.

"What is the matter now?" asked the engineer, somewhat sharply. He, the
most upright and straightforward man alive, had little sympathy with the
hesitation of poor, timid Signor Giacomo.

"Allow me," Puttini began, and, turning to the servant, said harshly:

"Begone, you! Go into the kitchen. You will come when I call for you.
Go, I say! Why don't you do what I tell you? Where is your respect for
me? I command here! I am the master!"

It was the servant's curiosity, her insolent disregard for the orders of
her superior, which had provoked this outburst of despotic fury in
"Sior Zacomo."

"Whew! What a violent man!" she said, lifting the lamp on high. "There
is no need to shout in that way! What do you think of it, _Scior
Parento_?"

"Look here!" the engineer exclaimed. "Would it not be better for you to
take yourself off, instead of standing there and jabbering?"

Marianna went away grumbling, and Signor Giacomo began to communicate
his most secret thoughts to the worshipful engineer, interlarding his
sentences with many _buts_ and _ifs_, _that is_ and _reallys_. He had
promised to be present in the capacity of witness at Luisa's secret
marriage, but now, when it was time to start for Castello, he was
assailed by an overpowering fear of compromising himself.

He was "first political deputy," as the highest communal authority was
then called. If the worshipful Imperial and Royal Commissary of Porlezza
should get wind of this affair, how would he look upon it? And the
Marchesa? "A terrible woman, most worthy engineer! A vindictive woman!"
Besides he had so many other worries! "There is that cursed bull!" This
bull, a bone of contention between the town and the _alpador_, or tenant
of the hill-pastures, had, for the last two years, been a moral incubus
to poor Signor Giacomo, who, in speaking of his troubles and trials,
always began with "that perfidious servant," and ended with "that
cursed bull!" In speaking these words he would raise his small face, his
eyes full of pained execration, and stretch out accusing hands towards
the brow of the hill which overhung his house, towards the home of that
fiendish beast. But the engineer, whose fine, honest features betrayed
marked disapproval and a growing contempt for this cowardly little man,
who stood wriggling there before him, exclaimed several times
impatiently: "Oh, dear me!" as if pitying himself for the poor company
he was in. Finally, his patience entirely exhausted, he extended his
arms with the elbows turned outwards, and shaking them as if he were
holding the reins of a lazy old horse, exclaimed: "What is all this?
What is all this? It is absurd! This is the language of a fool, my good
Signor Giacomo! I would never have believed that a man like you, a man
let us say----"

Here the engineer, being really at a loss for a suitable phrase
wherewith to describe his companion, simply puffed out his cheeks,
emitting a long-drawn-out rumble, a sort of rattling noise, as if he had
an epithet in his mouth which was so big that he could not spit it out.
Meanwhile Signor Giacomo, who had turned very red, was protesting
eagerly: "Enough! Enough! Pray excuse me! I am quite ready! I will come!
Don't get excited! I only expressed a doubt, most worshipful engineer.
You know the world. So did I, at one time, but I know it no longer."

He withdrew for a moment to reappear again presently carrying an
enormously high hat with a broad brim, which had seen Ferdinand enter
Verona in 1838, the so-called "emperor's year."

"I feel this sign of respect and satisfaction is fitting," said he.

When the engineer caught sight of the thing, he once more ejaculated his
"What is all this?" But the little man, who had a ceremonious spirit,
stuck to his point. "It is my duty, my duty!" and he called to Marianna
to light them down stairs. When the servant saw her master with that
immense "sign of satisfaction" on his head, she gave voice to her
astonishment. "Hold your tongue!" puffed the unfortunate Signor Giacomo.
"Be quiet!" and as soon as he was out of the door his wrath burst forth.
"There is no doubt about it, that cursed servant will be the death of
me!"

"Why don't you send her away, then?" the engineer enquired.

Signor Giacomo had already placed one foot on the first step of the
narrow lane that leads upwards on one side of the Puttini house, when he
was brought to a stand-still by this pointed question, which pierced his
conscience like a dagger.

"Alas!" he replied, sighing.

"I understand," said the engineer.

"Besides, what good would that do?" the other went on, after a short
pause. "This is the same as that!"

This old Venetian saying concerning the unfortunate identity of the two
relative pronouns, Signor Giacomo pronounced as an epilogue, and then,
puffing loudly, emitted a loud breath, and once more started forward.

Puttini leading and the engineer following, they climbed steadily for a
few minutes, up the steep and narrow path, dimly lighted by the moon
which was hidden among the clouds. No sound was heard save their slow
steps, the thumping of their sticks on the stones, and Signor Giacomo's
regular puffing: "Apff! Apff!" At the foot of the narrow stairway
leading to Pianca, the little man stopped, removed his hat, wiped away
the perspiration with a big, white handkerchief, and glancing up at the
great walnut-tree, and the stables of Pianca to which he must ascend,
puffed harder than ever.

"By the body of the rogue Bacchus!" he ejaculated.

The engineer encouraged him. "Up with you, Signor Giacomo. It is all for
love of Luisina."[E]

Signor Giacomo started on again without a word, and when they reached
the stables, beyond which the path becomes less rough, he seemed to
forget the stairs, his scruples, the perfidious servant, the Imperial
and Royal Commissary, the vindictive Marchesa and the cursed bull, and
began talking of Signora Rigey with great enthusiasm.

"There is no doubt about it, when I have the honour of being in the
company of your niece, of Signorina Luisina, I assure you I really feel
as if I were back into the days of Signora Baratela and the Filipuzze
girls, of the three Sparesi sisters from San Piero Incarian, and of many
others, whose graces used to charm me, in the old days. From time to
time I go to see the Marchesa, and I sometimes meet the girls of to-day
there. No--no--no, they do not behave in a becoming manner. They are
either sullenly silent or over-talkative. But just look at Signorina
Luisina, how easy is her manner with every one! She knows how to behave
with young and old, rich and poor, the servant and the priest. I really
fail to comprehend why the Marchesa----"

The engineer interrupted him.

"The Marchesa is right," said he. "My niece is neither of noble birth,
nor has she a penny. How can you expect the Marchesa to be satisfied?"

Signor Giacomo stopped short, rather disconcerted, and stared at the
engineer, blinking his sorrowful eyes.

"How is this? You don't really mean to say she is right?"

"I never approve of acting contrary to the wishes of parents, or of
those who represent the parents. But I, dear Signor Giacomo, am an
old-fashioned man like yourself, a man of the time of Carlo Umberto, as
they say hereabouts. Now, the world wags differently, and we must let it
wag. Therefore, having expressed my opinions on this point, I said to my
relatives: 'Now do as you like. But when you have decided one way or
another, let me know what is to be done, and I shall be ready!'"

"And what does Signora Teresina say?"

"My sister? My sister, poor creature, says: 'If I can see them settled
in life, I shall no longer dread death.'"

Signor Giacomo breathed hard, as was his habit whenever he heard that
last, unpleasant word pronounced.

"But it is surely not so bad as that?" said he.

"Who can tell?" the engineer replied, very seriously. "We must trust in
the Almighty."

They had reached a sharp bend where the narrow path, passing the last of
the small fields belonging to the territory of Albogasio, turns towards
the first of those belonging to Castello, and winds on, on the left,
along the top of a jutting crag, suddenly coming in sight of a deep
cleft in the mountain's bosom, of the lake far below, of the villages of
Casarico and San Mamette, crouching on the shore as if in the act of
drinking. Castello is perched a little higher up, and not far distant,
facing the bare and forbidding peak of Cressogno, the whole of which is
visible, from the gorges of Loggio to the sky. It is a beautiful spot
even at night in the moonlight, but if Signor Giacomo paused there,
striking a contemplative attitude and forgetting to puff, it was not
because he considered the scene worthy of any one's attention, to say
nothing of that of a political deputy, but because, having a weighty
argument to expound, he felt the necessity of concentrating all his
strength in his brain, and of suspending all other effort, even that of
the legs.

"That is a fine maxim," said he. "Let us trust in the Almighty. Yes, my
dear sir. But permit me to observe that in our time we were always
hearing of prayers being answered, of conversions and miracles. Am I not
correct? But now the world is not the same, and it appears to me the
Almighty is sick of it all. The world is in much the same condition as
our parish church at Albogasio, which the Almighty used to visit once a
month. Now He comes only once a year."

"Listen, my good Signor Giacomo," said the engineer, who was impatient
to reach Castello. "The Almighty is not to blame because the parish has
been transferred from one church to another. However, we will push on,
and let the Almighty arrange things as He thinks best."

Whereupon he started forwarded so briskly that presently Signor Giacomo
was obliged to stop again, puffing like a pair of bellows.

"Pardon me," said he, "if I yield, in a measure, to that curiosity which
is inborn in man. Might one inquire your worshipful age?"

The engineer understood the hidden meaning of his question, and
answered in a low tone, with triumphant and ironical meekness--

"I am older than you!"

And he started off again at the same cruel pace.

"I was born in '88, you know," Puttini groaned.

"And I, in '85!" Ribera flung over his shoulder, without stopping. "Now
come along."

Fortunately for Puttini they had only a few steps more to go. There was
the great wall that supported the consecrated ground about the church of
Castello, and there was the narrow stairway leading up to the entrance
of the village. Now they must turn into the dark passage below the
priest's house, feeling their way along like blind men through this
black hole, in which Signor Giacomo's imagination pictured so many
treacherous and slippery stones, so many accursed, deceitful steps, that
he stopped short, and, resting his clasped hands on the knob of his
stick, spoke as follows--

"By the body of the rogue Bacchus! No, most worshipful engineer, no, no,
no! Really I cannot. I shall remain here. They will surely come to
church. The church is near by. I shall wait here. Body of the rogue
Bacchus!"

This last "Body!" Signor Giacomo ground privately between his teeth,
like the close of an inward soliloquy concerning the accessories
surrounding the exceeding discomfort he was undergoing.

"Wait a minute," said the engineer.

A thread of light appeared under the church door. The engineer entered
and presently came out again, accompanied by the sacristan, who had been
preparing the hassocks for the bride and groom. He now brought to
Puttini's rescue the long pole with a lighted taper at the end, which
was used to light the candles on the altars. Thus, standing in the
church door, he moved the taper along in front of Signor Giacomo's feet
as far as the pole would reach, while that gentleman, but ill-satisfied
with this religious illumination, groped his way forward, grumbling at
the darkness, the miserable, sacred taper, and at him who held it, until
at last, abandoned by the sacristan, and seized by the engineer, he was
dragged along, much like a pike at the end of a line, and, in spite of
his mute resistance, was finally landed on the threshold of Casa Rigey.

       *       *       *       *       *

At Castello the houses which stand in unbroken line on the winding
hill-top, enjoying the sun and the view of the lake far below, all white
and smiling on the side towards the open, all dark on the side towards
that other row of less fortunate houses, which rise sadly behind them,
resemble certain favoured individuals, who, brought into too close
contact with misery, assume a hostile demeanour, and press close to one
another that, thus united, they may hold the others in check. Among
these fortunate ones Casa Rigey is one of the darkest on the side facing
the poverty of the common houses, one of the brightest on the side
facing the sun.

From the street door a long and narrow corridor leads to a small, open
loggia, from which, by means of a few steps, one may descend to the
little white terrace which, between the reception room and a high,
windowless wall, stretches out to the edge of the hill, looking down
into the ravines from which issues the Soldo, looking down upon the
lake, as far as the green gulfs of the Birosin and of the Doi, as far as
the quiet sweeps beyond Caprino and Gandria.

Signor Rigey, born in Milan of a French father, had been professor of
the French language at Madame Berra's boarding school, but he had lost
his position there, and most of his private pupils, because it was
rumoured of him that he was irreligious. In 1825 he had purchased this
little house, and retired to it from Milan, wishing to live economically
and peacefully. He had, soon afterwards, married the sister of the
civil-engineer Ribera. Dying in 1844 he left his wife with a daughter of
fifteen, the house and a few thousand _svanziche_.[F]

Hardly had the engineer knocked somewhat noisily at the door, when
light, swift steps were heard in the corridor. The door was thrown open
and a voice neither low nor silvery, but indescribably harmonious,
whispered: "What a noise, Uncle!" "Noise indeed!" her uncle replied
with mock dignity. "Am I then expected to knock with my nose?" His niece
placed one hand over his mouth, and with the other drew him inside; then
she saluted Signor Giacomo gracefully, and closed the door. All this was
accomplished in the twinkling of an eye, while Signor Giacomo himself
was puffing out: "Your most humble servant! I am really delightful----"
"Thank you, thank you!" said Luisa. "Pray go in, I have a word to say to
Uncle."

The little man went forward, hat in hand, and the young girl tenderly
embraced her old uncle, kissing him, pressing her face to his breast,
and clasping her arms about his neck.

"Won't that do now?" said the engineer, almost as if to check these
caresses, for in them he felt a gratitude which he feared would
presently take the form of words. "There, there! That is enough! How is
Mamma?" Luisa's only reply was a tightening of her embrace. This uncle
was more than a father to her, he was the special Providence of the
house, but, in his great and simple bounty, he never dreamed that he had
the slightest claim to the gratitude of his sister and niece. Whatever
would these poor women have done without him, possessing only that
meagre sum of twelve or fifteen thousand _svanziche_ which Rigey had
left? As civil-engineer, employed on public works, Ribera enjoyed a good
salary. He lived frugally at Como with an old housekeeper, passing his
savings on to Casa Rigey. At first he had openly and heartily
disapproved of Luisa's attachment for Franco, for it seemed to him that
such a union would be but ill-assorted; but the young people being
determined, and his sister having consented, he made up his mind to help
them in every possible way, keeping his opinions to himself.

"And Mamma?" he repeated.

"She was feeling very well this evening because she was so happy, but
now she is agitated, for Franco came about half an hour ago, and told
her he has had something of a scene with his grandmother----"

"Oh dear me!" the engineer exclaimed. Whenever he heard of a misfortune
befalling any one else he always uttered this expression of
self-commiseration.

"No, Uncle! Indeed Franco is right!"

Luisa pronounced these words with sudden warmth. "Yes indeed!" she
exclaimed, her uncle having uttered a doubtful "Hm!" "He is perfectly
right. But," she added in a low tone, "he says he left home in such a
manner that his grandmother will probably discover everything."

"It will be better so," said her uncle, starting towards the terrace.

The moon had set and it was dark. Luisa whispered: "Mamma is here."

Signora Teresa, who was suffering for want of breath, had had herself
drawn out into the terrace in her easy-chair, hoping to find relief in
the open air.

"What do you say to this, Piero?" said a voice resembling Luisa's in
tone, but sweeter and with a tired ring; a voice that seemed to come
from a gentle heart which the world has used harshly, and which must
yield. "What do you say to this? After all, our precautions will be of
no avail."

"No, no, Mamma. We are not sure of that. We cannot say so yet!"

While Luisa was speaking, Franco, who was in the salon with the curate,
came out to embrace the engineer.

"Well," said Ribera, extending his hand, for embraces were little to his
taste. "What has happened?"

Franco related what had taken place, softening somewhat certain too
offensive expressions of his grandmother's concerning the Rigeys,
concealing her threat of not leaving him a penny, and blaming his own
over-susceptibility rather than the old-woman's ill-nature, and finally
confessing that he had purposely let it be known that he intended to
remain out all night. This could have no other effect than that of
leading his grandmother to an immediate discovery, for she would
question him concerning this absence, and his silence would be a
confession, for he did not intend to lie about this matter.

"Listen!" Uncle Piero exclaimed, with the ringing voice and open
countenance of the perfectly straightforward man who, being smothered to
the point of suffocation with precautions and dissimulations, finally
strikes out from the shoulder and, casting them off, breathes freely
once more. "I admit you were wrong to irritate your grandmother, for,
after all, old people must be respected even when they err; I see that
the consequences may be serious, but nevertheless I am glad things are
as they are, and I should be more glad if you had told your grandmother
everything, clearly and roundly. I have never had any patience with all
this secrecy, all this feigning and hiding. The honest man openly
confesses his actions. You desire to marry against your grandmother's
wishes? Well do so, but, at least, don't deceive her."

"But Piero!" Signora Teresa exclaimed, who, besides a delicate
perception of what life should be, possessed an accurate sense of what
life really is, and, being much more given to religious exercises than
her brother, and standing on a more familiar footing with the Almighty,
could most easily persuade herself that He would make certain
concessions in the matter of form, when some substantial benefit was to
be gained.

"But Piero! You don't think! If the Marchesa finds out about the
marriage this way, she will, of course, refuse to receive Luisa into her
house, and then what are the children to do? Where can they go? There is
no room here, and even if there were, nothing is ready. At your house
it is the same. You must consider all these points. If we wished to keep
the marriage a secret for a month or two, it was not in order to
deceive, it was to gain time in which to win over Franco's grandmother,
and if she would not yield, to prepare one or two rooms at Oria."

"Oh, dear me!" said the engineer, "Does it take two months to do that?
It seems incredible!"

At this point a prolonged puff in the shadow reminded them of Signor
Giacomo's presence; he was leaning against the wall in one corner not
daring to move, because it was so dark.

Signora Teresa had not yet welcomed him.

"Oh, Signor Giacomo!" she now hastened to say. "I beg your pardon. I am
really so very, very much obliged to you! Pray come this way. Did you
hear what we were saying? Do let us have your opinion."

"Your very humble servant," said Signor Giacomo from his corner. "Really
I dare not move, for with my poor sight----"

"Luisa!" Signora Teresa called. "Bring a lamp. But did you hear, Signor
Giacomo? What do you think about it? Do tell us."

In his profound wisdom Signor Giacomo emitted three or four little hasty
puffs which meant: Ah, this is indeed an embarrassing question!

"I cannot say," he began hesitatingly, "I cannot say at present, being
in the dark----"

"Luisa!" Signora Teresa called once more.

"No, no, Signora! I mean being in the dark on so many points. I feel
that in my ignorance I may not pronounce an opinion. Still I will say it
seems to me that perhaps it might ... well, at any rate, I am here at
your service and at the service of this most respected family, though
indeed I should not be astonished if the Imperial and Royal
Commissary--a most excellent person, but very punctilious.... But
enough, we will not talk of that, for here I am. But I do say, it seems
to me that we might wait a little while, and our most noble friend Don
Franco here might be able to wheedle and persuade.... Well, well, well.
Do as you like. It is all the same to me."

A furious protest on Franco's part had caused Signor Giuseppe to face
about thus suddenly. Luisa seconded this protest, and Signora Teresa,
who now would perhaps have been in favour of a postponement, did not
venture to oppose their wishes.

"Luisa, Franco," said she, "take me back to the salon."

The two young people pushed the easy-chair into the salon, followed by
Uncle Piero and Signor Giacomo.

On the threshold Luisa, bending over her mother, kissed her hair, and
murmured: "You will see. All will be for the best."

She had expected to find the curate in the salon, but he had slipped
away through the kitchen.

Hardly had Franco and Luisa pushed the invalid's chair up to the table
upon which stood the lamp, when the sacristan came to say that
everything was ready. Signora Teresa asked him to inform the curate that
the bride and groom would go to church in half an hour.

"Luisa!" said she, glancing meaningly at her daughter.

"Yes, Mamma," the girl replied, and turning to her lover, said in a low
tone: "Franco, Mamma wishes to speak with you."

Signor Giacomo understood, and went out to the terrace. The engineer did
not understand at all, and his niece had to explain to him that her
mother was to be left alone with Franco. The simple-minded man could see
no reason for this, but she took his arm and, smiling, led him away to
the terrace.

Signora Teresa silently held out her beautiful hand, which was still
youthful in its curves, and Franco, kneeling, kissed it.

"Poor Franco," said she gently.

Then she made him rise from his knees and sit close to her. She must
speak to him, she said, and her breath was so short. But he would
understand much from a few words, would he not?

In speaking these words her voice was infinitely sweet.

"You must know," she began, "that I had not intended to say this to you,
but I thought of it when you spoke about breaking the plate at the
dinner-table. I beg you to be careful on account of Uncle Piero's
position. In his heart he feels as you do. If you only could have seen
the letters he wrote me in 1848! But he is a servant of the Government.
It is true his conscience is perfectly easy, for he knows that by
engineering roads and water-works he is serving his country and not the
Germans. But he must and will take certain precautions, and you--for
love of him--must be cautious also."

"The Germans will soon be gone, Mamma!" Franco replied. "But do not
worry; you shall see how prudent I will be."

"Oh, my dear! I have little more to see, I have only to see you two
united and blessed by the Lord. When the Germans go, you will come to
Looch to tell me of it."

Those small fields where the little cemetery of Castello is situated go
by the name of Looch.

"But I had intended to speak to you of another matter," Signora Teresa
went on, without giving Franco time to protest. He took her hands and
pressed them, with difficulty restraining his tears.

"I must speak to you of Luisa," she said. "You must know your wife
well."

"I do know her, Mamma! I know her as well as you do, and perhaps even
better."

As he pronounced these words his whole being glowed and quivered in his
passionate love for her who was the life of his life, the soul of his
soul.

"Poor Franco!" said Signora Teresa, smiling tenderly. "No, listen to me,
for there is something you do not know, of which you should be informed.
Wait a moment."

She needed to rest. Her emotion made her breathing more laboured, and
she spoke with greater difficulty than usual. She motioned to Franco not
to move, for she saw he was about to rise, that he might do something to
relieve her. Only a little repose was necessary, and she took it,
resting her head against the chair-back.

Presently she roused herself. "You have probably heard many evil
accounts of my poor husband, at your own home. You will have heard that
he was an unprincipled man, and that I did very wrong to marry him. It
is true he was not religious, and for that reason I hesitated some time
before deciding to accept him. I was advised to do so because it was
thought I might have a good influence over this man, who had a most
noble soul. He died a Christian, and I have every hope of meeting him in
Heaven, if the Lord, in His mercy, shall see fit to receive me there.
But up to the very last hour it seemed as if I were not to accomplish
anything. Now, I fear my Luisa has her father's tendencies in her heart.
She hides them from me, but I feel they are there. I commend her to you;
study her, advise her; she is gifted and has a great heart, and if I
have not known how to do well by her, you must do better. You are a good
Christian: see that, with all her heart, she also becomes one. Promise
me this, Franco."

He promised, smiling, as if he considered her fears groundless, and were
making this superfluous promise simply to satisfy her.

The invalid gazed sadly at him. "Believe me," she added, "these are not
fancies. I cannot die in peace if you do not take this matter
seriously." And when the young man had repeated his promise, this time
without smiling, she said--

"One word more. When you leave here you will go to Professor
Gilardoni's, will you not?"

"That was my first plan. I was to have told my grandmother that I was
going to sleep at Gilardoni's house, as we were to start on an excursion
together in the morning. But now, you know how I left home."

"Still you had better go there. I had rather you went there, and
besides, he expects you, does he not? So you must go. Poor Gilardoni! He
has never been here since his fit of madness, two years ago. You know
about that, do you not? Luisa has told you?"

"Yes, Mamma."

This Professor Gilardoni, who lived like a hermit at Casarico, had
fallen most romantically in love with Signora Teresa some years before,
and had timidly presented himself to her as a suitor. She had received
his proposal with such utter amazement that he had lacked courage to
appear before her again.

"Poor man!" Signora Rigey continued, "that was a most stupid action, but
he has a heart of gold, and is a true friend. I wish you to cherish him.
The day before he had that mad fit, he confided a secret to me. I may
not repeat to you what he said, and moreover, I beg you not to mention
the subject to him unless he speaks to you about it; but it is, in fact,
something which, under certain circumstances, might be of great
importance to you two, especially if you have children. If Gilardoni
should confide in you, reflect seriously before telling Luisa. She might
look at the matter in a wrong light. Consider the question carefully,
consult Uncle Piero, and then speak or remain silent according to the
line of action you may have determined to adopt."

"Yes, Mamma."

There was a gentle tap at the door, and Luisa's voice said: "Have you
finished?"

Franco looked at the invalid. "Come in," said she. "Is it time to go?"

Luisa did not answer, but threw one arm around Franco's neck, and
together they knelt before the mother, their heads buried in her lap.
Luisa tried her best to restrain her tears, knowing well that her mother
should be spared all violent emotion, but her heaving shoulders betrayed
her.

"No, Luisa, no, dear, no!" said her mother, caressing her bowed head. "I
am grateful to you, for you have always been a good daughter dear; such
a good daughter! Calm yourself; I am so happy! You will see, I shall
get better. Now go. Kiss me, both of you, and then go. You must not keep
the curate waiting. May God bless you, Luisa, and you also, Franco!"

She asked for her prayer-book, drew the lamp towards her, had the
windows and the door leading to the terrace thrown open that she might
breathe more easily, and then dismissed the maid, who was prepared to
keep her company. When the young couple had left the room, the engineer
came in to greet his sister before going to church.

"Good-by, Teresa."

"Good-by, Piero. Another load is laid on your shoulders, my poor Piero."

"Amen!" the engineer answered, calmly.

When she was alone Signora Rigey sat listening to the receding
footsteps. The heavy steps of her brother and Signor Giacomo bringing up
the rear, prevented her hearing those others, which she strained her ear
to follow as far as possible.

Another moment and the sounds ceased. She realised that Luisa and Franco
were going away together into the future, whither she might follow them
only for a few months, perhaps only for a few days; that she could
neither divine nor foresee what their fate would be. "Poor children!"
she thought. "Who knows what they may have passed through in five years,
in ten years." She listened again, but the silence was profound; the
open window admitted only the far-away thundering of the cascades of
Rescia, over across the lake. Then, thinking that they must already have
entered the church, she took her prayer-book, and read attentively.

But she soon grew weary; her brain was confused, and the words of the
book blurred before her eyes.

Her mind was becoming drowsy, her will-power was lost. She foresaw the
approach of a vision of unreal things, but she knew she was not asleep,
she understood that this was not a dream, but a condition produced by
her malady. She saw the door leading to the kitchen open, and there
entered old Gilardoni from Dasio, called "el Carlin de Das," father of
the Professor and agent of the Maironi family, for the estates in
Valsolda--he had been dead five-and-twenty years. The figure came
forward, and said, in a natural voice: "Oh, Signora Teresa! Are you
quite well?" She thought she answered--"Oh, Carlin! I am quite well; and
how are you?" But in reality she did not speak.

"I've got the letter here," the figure continued, waving a letter
triumphantly. "I've brought it here for you!" And he placed the letter
on the table.

Signora Teresa saw it quite plainly. A letter, soiled and yellowed by
time, without an envelope, and still bearing traces of a little red
wafer, lay before her and she experienced a sense of lively
satisfaction. She thought she said: "Thank you, Carlin. Are you going to
Dasio, now?"

"No, Signora," Carlin replied. "I am going to Casarico to see my son."

The invalid could no longer distinguish Carlin, but she saw the letter
on the table, saw it distinctly. Still she was not sure it was there; in
her sluggish brain the vague memory of other past hallucinations still
endured, the memory of the disease, which was her enemy, her cruel
master. Her eyes were glassy, her breathing laboured and rapid.

The sound of hastening footsteps roused her, and recalled her almost
completely to herself. When Luisa and Franco came swiftly into the room
from the terrace they did not notice that their mother's face was
distorted, for the lamp was heavily shaded. Kneeling before her they
covered her with kisses, attributing that laboured breathing to emotion.
Suddenly the invalid raised her head from the chair-back and stretched
out her hands, pointing to something at which she was looking fixedly.

"The letter!" she said.

The young people turned, but saw nothing.

"What letter, Mamma?" Luisa asked. At the same moment she noticed her
mother's expression, and warned Franco by a glance. This was not the
first time that Signora Teresa had suffered from hallucinations since
her illness began. At the question, "What letter?" everything became
clear to her. "Oh!" she exclaimed, and withdrawing her hands, buried her
face in them, weeping silently.

Comforted by her children's caresses she soon composed herself, kissed
them, extended her hand to her brother and Signor Giacomo, who did not
in the least understand what had happened, and then motioned to Luisa to
go and get something. It was a question of a cake and a precious bottle
of wine from Niscioree, which, together with some others, had been sent
some time before by the Marchese Bianchi, to whom Signora Teresa was an
object of special veneration.

Signor Giacomo, who was longing to be off, began to fidget and puff, and
glance towards the engineer.

"Signora Luisina," said he, seeing the bride about to leave the room.
"Pray excuse me, but I was just going to take leave of----"

"No, no!" Signora Rigey exclaimed, with only a thread of voice. "Wait a
little longer."

Luisa disappeared, and Franco slipped out of the room behind his wife.
Signora Teresa was suddenly assailed by scruples, and signed to her
brother to call him back.

"Nonsense!" said the engineer.

"But Piero!"

"Well?"

The ancient and austere traditions of her house, a delicate sense of
dignity, perhaps also a religious scruple, because the young couple had
not yet received the benediction of the nuptial Mass, would neither
allow Signora Teresa to approve of their withdrawing together, nor to
explain her views on the subject. Her reticence and Uncle Piero's
fatherly benevolence gave Franco time to place himself beyond the
possibility of recall. Signora Teresa did not insist.

"Forever!" she murmured presently, as if speaking to herself. "United
forever!"

"You and I," said the engineer, addressing his colleague in celibacy in
the Venetian dialect, "you and I, Signor Giacomo, never go in for any
such nonsense!"

"You are always in good spirits, most worshipful engineer!" Signor
Giacomo answered, while his conscience was telling him that in his time
he had gone in for far worse "nonsense."

The bride and groom did not return.

"Signor Giacomo," the engineer continued, "there will be no going to bed
for us to-night."

The unfortunate man writhed, puffed and winked hard but did not reply.

Still the bride and groom were absent.

"Piero," said Signora Teresa, "ring the bell."

"Signor Giacomo," the engineer began, composedly, "shall we ring the
bell?"

"That would seem to be the Signora's wish," the little man replied,
steering his course as best he could between the brother and sister.
"However, I express no opinion."

"Piero!" his sister pleaded.

"Come, let us have an answer," Uncle Piero continued without moving.
"What would you do? Would you, or would you not ring this bell?"

"For pity's sake!" Signor Giacomo groaned. "You really must excuse me."

"I will excuse nothing!"

The young people were still absent, and the mother growing more and more
anxious, repeated--

"Piero, I tell you to ring!"

Signor Giacomo, who was dying to get away, and who could not leave
without saluting the bride and groom, encouraged by Signora Teresa's
insistence, made a great effort, turned very red and finally pronounced
an opinion: "I should ring."

"My dear Signor Giacomo," the engineer exclaimed, "I am surprised,
amazed and astonished!" Who can say why, when he was in good spirits,
and had occasion to use one of these synonyms, he would always string
the three together? "However," he concluded, "let us ring."

And he proceeded to ring very gently.

"Listen, Piero," said Signora Teresa. "Remember that when you leave,
Franco is to go with you. He will return at half-past five for the
Mass."

"Oh dear me!" Uncle Piero exclaimed. "How many difficulties! But after
all, are they or are they not husband and wife?--Well, well," he added,
seeing that his sister was beginning to grow excited, "do just as you
like!"

Instead of the young couple the maid appeared, bringing the cake and the
bottle, and told the engineer that Signorina Luisina begged him to come
out to the terrace for a moment.

"Now that something good is coming at last, you send me outside!" said
the engineer. He jested with his usual serenity of spirit, perhaps
because he did not fully realize his sister's serious condition, perhaps
because of his naturally pacific attitude towards all that was
inevitable.

He went out to the terrace where Luisa and Franco were waiting for him.

"Listen, Uncle," his niece began. "My husband says that his grandmother
will surely discover everything at once; that he will not be able to
remain at Cressogno any longer; that if Mamma were stronger we might all
go to your house at Oria, but, unfortunately, that is not possible as
matters stand at present. So he thinks we might arrange a room here--any
way to get it ready quickly. We had thought of poor Papa's study. What
do you say to this plan?"

"Hm!" ejaculated Uncle Piero, who was slow to take up with new ideas.
"It seems to me a very hasty resolution. You will be incurring expense
and turning the house upside down, for an arrangement which can only be
temporary."

His one idea was to have the whole family at Oria, and this expedient
did not suit him. He feared that if the young people once settled down
at Castello they would remain there. Luisa used every argument to
persuade him that there was no other way, and that neither the outlay
nor the trouble would be great. On leaving home her husband would go
directly to Lugano, and bring back what few pieces of furniture were
absolutely indispensable. Uncle Piero asked if Franco could not take up
his quarters at Oria, remaining there until such a time as she and her
mother could join him. "Oh, Uncle!" Luisa exclaimed. Had she known about
the bell she would have been still more astonished by a similar
proposal. But sometimes this good man had artless ideas of this sort, at
which his sister smiled. Luisa had no difficulty in finding arguments
against his plan for banishing Franco, and she used them with warmth.
"Enough!" said Uncle Piero calmly, though he was not convinced; and he
arched his wide-spread arms with the gesture of the _Dominus vobiscum_,
more charitably inclined, more ready to enfold poor humanity in a tender
embrace than before. "_Fiat!_ Oh, by the way," he added, turning to
Franco, "how about money?"

Franco shivered, much embarrassed.

"You know he is our father!" his wife said.

"Not by any means your father," Uncle Piero observed placidly. "Not by
any means, but what is mine is yours; so I shall line your pockets as
well as my means will permit."

And he suffered, without returning it, the embrace which told of their
gratitude, almost as if vexed by this unnecessary demonstration, vexed
that they should not accept more simply an act which to him seemed so
simple and natural. "Yes, yes!" said he, "now let us go in and drink;
it will be far more profitable!"

       *       *       *       *       *

The wine of Niscioree, clear and red as a ruby, at once delicate and
strong, flattered and soothed the inner-man of the impatient Signor
Giacomo, who, in those years of _oidium_, seldom wet his lips in
undiluted wine, but gloomily sipped the Grimelli wine, of watery memory.

"_Est_, _est_,[G] is it not, Signor Giacomo?" said Uncle Piero, seeing
Puttini gaze with devoted eyes into the glass he held. "But here at
least, there is no danger of expiring like a certain man: _et propter
nimium est dominus meus mortuus est_."

"I feel as if I were being resuscitated," Signor Giacomo answered,
speaking very slowly and almost under his breath, his gaze still fixed
on the glass.

"Then you must give us a toast," the other said, rising. "But if you
will not speak, why then I must do so," and he recited merrily--

    "Long live he and long live she,
    And now we'll be off, and leave them free!"

Signor Giacomo emptied his glass, puffed loudly and winked hard, in
consequence of the varied sentiments which were running riot in his
soul, while the last perfume, the last flavour of the wine were fading
in his mouth. He offered his duty to the "most revered" Signora Teresa,
his devotion to the "most amiable" little bride, his respects to the
"most accomplished" young husband. Then, gesticulating with head and
arms, he declared himself undeserving of the thanks which were being
lavished upon him, and taking his great hat and his stick, he
started--humble and puffing, with mingled feelings of relief and
regret--to follow the placid bulk of the "most worshipful" engineer.

"And you, Franco?" Signora Teresa enquired immediately.

"I am going," he replied.

"Come here," said she. "I received you so badly when you returned from
church, my poor children! You see I had had one of my bad attacks; I
think you understood. But now I feel so well, so peaceful! Lord, I thank
Thee! it seems to me I have set my house in order, have put out the fire
and said my prayers; and now I am going to sleep, so well satisfied! But
not so very soon, dear, not at once. I leave you my Luisa, dear; I leave
you Uncle Piero. I know you will love them very much, will you not? But
you must remember me also. Ah, dear Lord! how sorry I am I shall not see
your children! That is indeed a grief to me! You must give them a kiss
every day for their poor grandmother ... every day. And now go, my son,
but you will be back by half-past five? Yes, dear.... Good-by ... now
go."

She spoke caressingly to him, as to a child who does not yet understand,
and he wept silently, with tender emotion, kissing her hands over and
over again, and glad Luisa was present to witness this scene, for in his
immense tenderness for the mother, there was his immense joy at being
one with the daughter, and an intense desire to love all that his wife
loved, and in the same measure.

"Go," Mamma Teresa repeated, fearing her own increasing emotion. "Go,
go!"

At last he obeyed and went out with Luisa.

On this occasion also Luisa was absent a long time, but even the holiest
souls have their little weaknesses, and although the maid was
constantly coming and going between the kitchen and the salon, Signora
Teresa, touched by the affection which Franco had displayed for her,
never once ordered her to ring the bell.


FOOTNOTES:

[E] _Luisina_: little Luisa, _ina_ being a diminutive. [_Translator's
note._]

[F] _Svanziche_: a coin varying from 90 to 95 centimes. [_Translator's
note._]

[G] _Est_, _est_: Canon Johannes Fugger of Augsburg travelling in Italy in
the twelfth century, directed his steward to precede him, and inscribe
the word _Est_ on the door of the inn where the best wine was to be had.
On reaching Montefiascone, the worthy canon found the word _Est_ written
three times on the tavern door, and indeed, the muscatel of this
district proved so much to his taste that he never left Montefiascone,
but ended his days there in the year 1113 or thereabouts, and was buried
in the church of S. Flaviano, where his tomb may still be seen. His
steward caused the following inscription to be carved upon the
sarcophagus:

    Est, Est, Est. Propter nimium est,
    Johannes de Fuc., D. meus, mortuus est.

It is said that the wine-loving prelate left orders that a barrel of the
very best muscatel should be spilled over his tomb every year on the
anniversary of his death, and this ceremony was faithfully performed
down to the end of the seventeenth century, when it was forbidden by a
certain Cardinal Barbarigi, of unconvivial memory. The best wine of
Montescone is still called _Est_, _Est_. [_Translator's note._]



CHAPTER IV

CARLIN'S LETTER


Franco went down the hill very, very slowly, absorbed in the world of
things within him, so crowded with thoughts and with new sensations.
Stopping every now and then to contemplate the grey road and the small
dark fields, he would touch the leaves of a grape-vine or the stones of
a low wall, in order to feel the reality of the external world, to
convince himself that he was not dreaming. Not until he had reached the
Contrada dei Mal'ari in Casarico, and was standing before the little
door of Gilardoni's tiny house, did he recall Mamma Teresa's dark words
concerning the secret Gilardoni had imparted to her, and he wondered
what this mystery could be, which must not be revealed to Luisa. To tell
the truth the mother's advice had not satisfied him entirely. "How could
I ever hide anything from my wife?" he thought as he knocked at the
door.

Professor Beniamino Gilardoni, son of "Carlin de Dàas," had been
educated at the expense of old Don Franco Maironi, Marchesa Orsola's
husband, an eccentric man, capricious and violent, but at the same
time, very generous. When Carlin died it became apparent that Maironi's
generosity had not been necessary. Beniamino inherited quite a little
hoard, and this maddened Don Franco, who held him responsible for the
paternal hypocrisy, turned his back upon him, and would have nothing
more to do with him for the short time he survived his agent. The young
man chose the career of teacher, was professor of Latin at the gymnasium
of Cremona, and of philosophy at the lyceum of Udine. Of a delicate
constitution, apprehensive of physical suffering, and extremely
misanthropical, he resigned his professorship in 1842, and came to
Valsolda to enjoy the modest fortune his father had left him. Dasio, his
native village, perched just below the dolomitic rocks of the Arabione,
was too high up and inconvenient for him. He sold his possessions there,
purchased the olive-grove of Sedorgg above Casarico, and a small villa
on the edge of the lake, in Casarico itself. It was so small as to be
almost a toy villa, and from its shape he called it the "Greek _II_ or
Pi" in imitation of the "Digamma" of Ugo Foscolo. From the Contrada dei
Mal'ari a short passage led to the little courtyard flanked by a tiny
portico, open on the lake-side and surrounded by tall oleanders. It
overlooked six miles of water, green, grey or blue, according to the
hour, as far as Monte S. Salvatore there in the distance, stooping,
under the burden of its melancholy hump, towards the humble hills of
Carona beneath it. On the east of the little house there was a
kitchen-garden, fabulously large for that part of the world, the
dimensions of which Engineer Ribera was wont to define by means of the
following surveyor's description: "Large field called _il Campone_,
measuring seven _tavole_." Now seven _tavole_ correspond to twenty or
twenty-two square metres! The Professor cultivated it with the aid of
his little servant Giuseppe, called Pinella, and of a small collection
of French treatises. He sent to France for the seeds of the most highly
esteemed qualities of vegetables, which sometimes came up in shameless
disregard of their certificates of baptism, and indeed of any honestly
baptised family. It would then happen that philosopher and servant,
stooping over the beds, their hands on their knees, would raise their
eyes from these mocking sprouts, and gaze at each other, the philosopher
honestly disappointed, the servant hypocritically so. In one corner of
the garden, in a little stable constructed according to the most
approved principles, dwelt a small Swiss cow, which had been purchased
after three months of diligent study, and had turned out as delicate and
fleshless as the master himself, who--in spite of the Swiss cow and four
Paduan hens--often found it impossible to make himself a cup of custard
in his own house. In the wall supporting the garden on the lake-side,
against whose base the _breva_ drove the swelling waves, he had made
some openings in which, following Franco Maironi's advice, he had
planted many American aloes, many roses and some caper-bushes, thus
binding together the substantial contents of his kitchen-garden, as he
was wont to say, with poetic elegance of form. And for the love of the
poetic, he had left a small corner of his kitchen-garden uncultivated.
The tallest of reeds had sprung up there, and in front of these reeds
the Professor had erected a sort of belvedere, a lofty, wooden platform,
very rustic and primitive, where, in pleasant weather, he passed many
happy hours with the mystic books he loved, enjoying the coolness of the
_breva_, and the murmuring of reeds and waves. At a distance the colour
of the platform could not be distinguished from that of the reeds, and
the Professor looked as if he were seated on air, book in hand, like any
magician. In the little salon he kept the small collection of works on
kitchen-gardening, the mystic books, the treatises on necromancy, and
gnosticism. The writings on hallucinations and dreams he kept in a tiny
study adjoining his bedroom, a sort of ship's cabin, into which lake and
sky seemed to pour through the window.

After the death of old Maironi the Professor had once more taken to
visiting the family, but the Marchesa did not please him particularly,
and her son Don Alessandro, Franco's father, pleased him still less. So
he ended by going there only once a year. When the lad Franco entered
the lyceum his grandmother--his father had been dead some time--begged
Gilardoni to give him some lessons during the Autumn. Master and pupil
resembled each other in their easy enthusiasms, in their fits of violent
but fleeting passion, and both were ardent patriots. When the necessity
for lessons no longer existed they continued to meet as friends, though
the Professor was some twenty years older than Franco. Gilardoni admired
his pupil's genius, but Franco, on the other hand, held the
half-Christian, half-rationalist philosophy of his master, and his
mystical tendencies, in small esteem. He laughed at the other's passion
for books and theories on horticulture and landscape gardening, a
passion which was entirely devoid of all common sense. But nevertheless,
he loved him sincerely for his goodness, his candour, his ardent soul.
Franco had been the Professor's confidant at the time of his unfortunate
passion for Signora Rigey, and later, Franco, in his turn, confided in
the Professor. Gilardoni was much affected by the news, and told Franco
that, his heart being still full to overflowing of that unchanging
devotion, he should feel as if he were, in a way, becoming Franco's
father, even though Signora Teresa herself would have none of him.
Franco showed little appreciation of this metaphysical paternity. This
passion for Signora Rigey seemed to him simply an aberration, and he was
more than ever confirmed in his opinion that the Professor's head was
not worth much, but that his heart was of gold.

So he knocked at the door, and Beniamino himself came to open it,
bearing a little oil lamp. "Well done," said he. "I was beginning to
think you were not coming, after all."

Gilardoni was in his dressing-gown and slippers, with a sort of white
turban on his head, and he exhaled a strong odour of camphor. He looked
like a Turk, like Gilardoni Bey, but the thin, sallow face which smiled
beneath the turban had nothing Turkish about it. Encircled by a short,
reddish beard, pompously embellished in the middle by a fine, big nose,
red and pimply, the face was lighted up by two beautiful blue eyes,
still very youthful, and full of simple kindness and poetry.

As soon as Franco had closed the door behind him his friend whispered:
"Is it done?" "It is done," Franco answered. The other embraced him and
kissed him in silence. Then he took him up stairs to the little study.
On the way he explained that, _secundum_ Raspail, he had applied a
compress of some sedative water to his head, for he was threatened with
a headache. He was an apostle of Raspail, and had converted Franco--who
often suffered from inflammatory sore throats--from leeches to camphor
cigarettes.

In the little study there was another very close and long embrace. "So
much! So much! So much!" Gilardoni exclaimed, meaning a world of things.

Poor Gilardoni, his eyes were glistening. He himself had longed in vain
for a happiness similar to his friend's! Franco understood and, much
embarrassed, did not know what to say to him, and a silence so
significant followed that Gilardoni could not stand it, and set about
lighting a little fire to heat some coffee he had prepared. Franco
offered to do this for him, and the Professor accepted, pleading his
headache, and began unrolling his turban before a basin of the sedative
water. "Well," said he, controlling his emotion by an effort of his
will, "tell me all about it." Franco told him everything, from his
grandmother's dinner-party, to the wedding ceremony in the church at
Castello, except of course, his private talk with Signora Teresa.
Professor Beniamino, meanwhile, had replaced his turban, and now
summoned up all his courage. "And----" said he, substituting a sort of
low groan for the beloved name, "how is she?" Upon learning of the
hallucination he exclaimed: "A letter? She thought she saw a letter? But
what letter?" This Franco did not know. A hissing on the fire
interrupted the conversation; the coffee was boiling hard and bubbling
over.

Gilardoni also resembled his young friend in that his heart might be
read from his face. The young friend who was, however, a far cleverer
and quicker reader of faces than he, at once perceived that he had
thought of some special letter, and inquired, while the coffee was
settling, if he could explain this hallucination. The Professor
hastened to say "no," but no sooner had he uttered that "no" than he
weakened it by adding several other negatives, mingled with inarticulate
grumblings: "Ah, no!--no indeed!--I cannot say--certainly not!" Franco
did not insist, and another extremely significant silence ensued. When
he had taken his coffee, with many involuntary signs of uneasiness, the
Professor promptly proposed that they go to bed. Franco, who must leave
before daybreak, preferred not to go to bed, but wished his friend to do
so, and, after an infinite number of protests and ceremonies, after
hesitating on the very threshold, his basin of sedative water in his
hand, the Professor suddenly faced about, and throwing a "good-night"
over his shoulder, disappeared.

When he was alone Franco put out the lamp and stretched himself in an
easy-chair with the good intention of going to sleep, seeking sleep in
some indifferent thought if he could possibly fix his mind on such a
thought. Not five minutes had passed when there was a knock at the door
and immediately the Professor rushed in, without a light, and
exclaiming: "Well, here I am again!" "What is the matter?" Franco
inquired. "I am sorry I put out the light." At the same moment he felt
the arms of the worthy Beniamino about his neck, his beard brushed
Franco's face, and he smelt the camphor and heard the voice. "Dear,
dear, Don Franco! I have an enormous load on my heart! I did not intend
to speak now; I wanted to leave you in peace, but I cannot, I cannot!"

"But speak! Calm yourself, calm yourself!" said Franco, gently freeing
himself from that embrace.

Gilardoni let him go, and pressed his hands to his forehead, groaning:
"Oh, what a stupid fool, what a stupid fool, what a stupid fool I am! I
might have left him alone; I might have waited until to-morrow or the
next day. But now it is done! It is done!"

He seized Franco's hand. "I tell you I had begun to undress when a sort
of giddiness came over me, and then it was all up with me. I must needs
put on the dressing-gown again, and rush in here without a light, like a
lunatic. In my haste I even tipped over the basin of sedative water."

"Shall we light the lamp?" Franco asked.

"No, no, no, we had better talk in the dark, better talk in the dark!
See, I am going way over there!" And he sat down at his writing-desk, to
escape the faint glimmer of light which fell through the window. Then he
began. He always spoke in a nervous and disorderly fashion, and it may
easily be imagined how he spoke now, in his present state of agitation.

"Shall I begin? Goodness knows what you will say, dear Don Franco! These
are all useless words, but what would you have--alas! patience--! Well,
I will begin--but where shall I begin? Oh, Lord! just see what a fool I
am, not even knowing where to begin! Ah, that hallucination! Yes, I told
you a lie just now; I can easily guess the origin of that hallucination.
It has to do with a letter; a letter I showed Signora Teresa two years
ago, a letter from Don Franco, your grandfather. Well, now let us begin
at the beginning.

"During his last days my poor father spoke to me of a letter from Don
Franco which I should find in the strong-box, where all the important
papers were kept. He told me to read it, to preserve it carefully, and,
when the time came, to act in accordance with the dictates of
conscience. 'But' said he, 'it is almost certain there will be nothing
to be done.' My poor father passed away. I searched the strong-box for
the letter, but did not find it. I hunted the whole house over, but in
vain. What could I do? I contented myself with reflecting that there was
nothing to be done, and thought no more about the matter. A fool, was I
not? A real idiot! Say so freely, I deserve it. I have said so to myself
so many times! But let us continue. Do you know how your grandfather's
estate was settled? Do you know how the affairs of your house were
arranged? You will forgive me for speaking to you of these matters, will
you not?"

"I know my grandfather died without a will, and that I have nothing,"
Franco replied. "But let us pass that over, and proceed."

To Franco it was truly a painful subject. At old Maironi's death no
will had been found. In perfect love and harmony, the widow and the son,
Don Alessandro, had divided the estate equally between them. In order to
secure this arrangement the son had made a very large grant to his
mother, declaring that he was only carrying out the paternal wishes,
which had not found a means of expression. This depraved young man, a
spendthrift and a gambler, was already caught in the toils of usurers at
the time of his father's death. In the seven years he survived him he
managed to spend everything, not leaving a penny to his only son,
Franco, who found himself reduced to some twenty thousand _svanziche_,
the fortune of his mother who had died in giving him birth.

"Yes, yes, let us get on," Gilardoni continued. "Three years ago, three
years ago, I say, I received a letter from you. I remember it was the
second of November, all Souls' Day. Curious circumstance, mysterious
circumstance! Very well. That night I went to bed, and dreamed a dream.
I dreamt of your grandfather's letter. Note that I had never thought of
it again. I dreamt I was hunting for it, and that I found it in an old
box I keep in the attic. I read it, still dreaming. It said there was a
great treasure in the cellar of Casa Maironi at Cressogno and that that
treasure was to come to you. I awoke in intense excitement, convinced
that this had been a prophetic dream. I got up, and went to look in the
box. I found nothing; but two days later, being about to sell certain
lands which I owned at Dasio, I got out an old deed of purchase, which
my father kept in the strong-box, and, in turning over the leaves, a
letter fell out. I glanced at the signature and saw: Nobile Franco
Maironi. I read the letter. It was the one in question! Thus you see,
the dream...."

"Well," said Franco, interrupting him, "and what did this letter say?"

The Professor rose, took a match half a cubit long, ran it in among the
live coals in the little fireplace, and lit the lamp.

"I have it here," he said with a great, despairing sigh. "Read it."

He took from his pocket and handed to Franco a small yellowish letter,
without an envelope, and still showing traces of the little red wafer.
The yellow-black lines of writing inside showed through here and there,
almost in relief.

Franco took it, held it near the lamp, and read aloud as follows:


         "Dear Carlin,--

     "You will find my last will enclosed in this letter. I have
     written it in duplicate. One copy I am keeping. This is the
     other, and I charge you to publish it if the first be not
     forthcoming. Do you understand? Very well then; and when we
     meet I forbid you absolutely to worry me with your advice, as
     is your d----d custom. You are the only person in whom I have
     confidence, but, after all, it is my right to command, and your
     duty to obey. Therefore all advice is useless and will not be
     tolerated. Good-bye.

                                   "Your affectionate master,
                                           "FRANCO MAIRONI.

    "CRESSOGNO, _22 Sept., 1828_."


"Now here is the will," said Gilardoni dolefully, handing Franco another
yellow document, "but don't read that aloud."

The document read as follows:

     "I, the undersigned, Nobile Franco Maironi, desire that my
     estate be divided in accordance with this, my last will and
     testament.

     "Donna Orsola Maironi, born Marchesa Scremin, having deigned to
     accept my homage as well as that of many others, I bequeath to
     her, in proof of my gratitude, the sum of ten thousand Milanese
     Lire, to be paid once and for all, and what, to her, is the
     most precious jewel of my household, namely Don Alessandro
     Maironi, duly inscribed in the parish-registers of the
     Cathedral of Brescia as my son.

     "I bequeath to my said son that part of my property which is
     lawfully due to him, and three _parpagliole_[H] a day more, in
     token of the special esteem in which I hold him.

     "I leave to my agent in Brescia, Signor Grigi, should he be
     still in my employ at the time of my death, all that he has
     stolen from me.

     "I leave to my agent in Valsolda, Carlino Gilardoni, upon the
     same condition as above, four Milanese Lire a day, during his
     natural life.

     "I desire that, during the life of Donna Orsola Maironi
     Scremin, a Mass be celebrated daily in the Cathedral of
     Brescia, for the good of her soul.

     "I name and appoint my grandson, Don Franco Maironi, son of Don
     Alessandro, residuary legatee of all the rest of my property.

     "As witness my hand, this fifteenth day of April, 1828.

                                                 "FRANCO MAIRONI."

Franco read--and, half dazed and without a word, passed the sheet of
paper back to the Professor. He was shaken, but felt vaguely that he
must control himself, that he must restrain his own agitation, collect
his thoughts, and strive to get a clear view of this matter and of
himself.

"What do you say to that?" the Professor exclaimed.

At this point Gilardoni's intense excitement reached a climax.

"Why did I not speak before, eh?" he continued. "The thing is that I
can't possibly give a clear, precise and positive reason for not having
done so. Those papers were a horror to me! If I myself and my own father
and mother had been involved in such a question, I would rather have
let a million slip than ask for it with those documents in my hand.
There! I have been a fool again, to have said that! Just forget those
last words, for in your place ... it is a different thing. I was
speaking for myself. Good Lord, of course I was speaking for myself!
Well, I thought--see what an ass I was--I thought your grandmother just
doted on you, and that your grandfather's property would go to you
anyway. And with that idea...! After a while I consulted Signora Teresa,
and showed her the letter and the will. She said I should have informed
you at once, as soon as I had made the discovery, but that she could not
give me any advice because now her daughter was, in a way, an interested
party. Besides, she said.... But that is of no consequence. In short I
saw the will was a horror to her also. Anyway, I was convinced your
grandmother would end by accepting this marriage, and I did not speak.
Tonight you come and tell me the Marchesa has used threats. Fancy that!
Now you understand that I could not wait, that I could not keep these
documents a moment longer. There--they are yours--take them!"

Franco, absorbed in his own thoughts, heard only these last words. "No,"
said he, "I will not take them. I know myself too well. With them in my
possession I might be led into doing something rash, or into acting
prematurely. You keep them for the present." Gilardoni would not hear
of keeping them, and drove Franco into one of his fits of impatience.
There was indeed nothing so irritating to his nerves as the inconclusive
outpourings of kind-hearted but brainless persons. Gilardoni's
opposition angered him, and he gave him to understand that this wish to
rid himself of the documents at all costs, was selfishness pure and
simple, and that those who have blundered must bear the consequences.
The words he uttered amounted to this, but the angry and harsh
expression of his face said much more. Gilardoni, whose face was
crimson, shuddered at the accusation of selfishness, but controlled
himself and putting on a grim frown in his turn, hastily pocketed the
documents, repeated a string of "well, well, well, wells," and abruptly
left the room. To appease his own conscience Franco at once set to work
trying to convince himself that Signor Beniamino was entirely in the
wrong. He had done wrong in not having given him the documents much
sooner, and now he was doing wrong in taking offence. As he was quite
sure he should make his peace with the inconclusive philosopher, he
thought no more about him, put out the lamp, and, returning to his
easy-chair, became once more engrossed in his previous meditations.

Now he was beginning to see clearly. He could not with dignity make use
of that will, which, both in form and in substance was dishonouring to
his grandmother, arousing as it did, when the letter was considered, a
suspicion of criminal suppression. The will also reflected little honour
upon his father. No, never. He must tell the professor to burn both
documents.

"Thus, Madam Grandmother, shall I triumph over you!" thought Franco,
"Making you a free gift of the property, and of your honour as well,
without even taking the trouble to tell you of it!" Revelling in this
thought Franco felt almost as if he were lifted above the earth, and he
drew a long breath, vastly pleased with himself, his soul illumined and
soothed by a sentiment of mingled generosity and pride. With all his
faith and his acts of Christian piety, he was very far from suspecting
that such a sentiment was not entirely good, and that a less
self-conscious magnanimity would have been more noble.

He let himself sink back in his easy-chair, more disposed to rest than
he had been before, thinking quietly of what he had read, of what he had
heard, as one who has been on the verge of embarking upon some perilous
speculation, and looks back upon the anxiety and the calamities from
which he has escaped forever. Old memories were also beginning to stir
in the depths of his soul. He recalled a certain tale an old servant had
told concerning the riches of the house of Maironi, which, she said, had
been stolen from the poor. He was a child then, and the woman had not
hesitated to speak in his presence. But the child had received a deep
impression, and this impression had been re-awakened in his early
boyhood, by the words of a priest, who had confided to him, with an air
of great secrecy and solemnity, and perhaps not without intention, that
the Maironi fortune was the fruit of a law-suit which had been unjustly
won against the Ospedale Maggiore of Milan.

"So, through me," thought Franco, "everything has gone back to the
devil."

It struck him that perhaps it was late, so he lighted the lamp once
more, and consulted his watch. It was half-past three. Now, it would be
impossible for him to rest. The moment which would re-unite him to Luisa
was too near at hand, his fancy was too greatly excited. One hour and a
half more! He looked at his watch every two minutes; it seemed as if the
tedious time would never pass. He took a book, but could not read. He
opened the window; the air was soft, the silence profound, the lake was
bright over towards S. Salvatore, and the heavens were studded with
stars. At Oria he could see a light. Perhaps it would be his fate to
live there in Uncle Piero's house. Gazing absently at that luminous
spot, he began to imagine what the future would be, and ever-changing
phantoms rose before him. At about half-past four he heard a bell ring
on the lower floor, and presently Pinella came with a message from his
master to the effect that if he wished to make the _ascent of the
Boglia_ it was time to start. The master had a severe headache, and
could neither rise nor receive him. Franco searched on the
writing-table for a sheet of paper, and wrote:

"_Parce mihi, domine, quia brixiensis sum._"

He went out, Pinella accompanying him with the light as far as the dark
arcade, where the road to Castello begins. Then he disappeared.

       *       *       *       *       *

The Marchesa Orsola rang her bell at half-past six, and ordered the maid
to bring her chocolate as usual. She swallowed more than half of it
before asking with the utmost composure, at what hour Don Franco had
returned.

"He has not yet returned, Signora Marchesa."

The old woman must have received an inward shock, but not a muscle of
her face twitched. She placed her lips on the edge of her cup of
chocolate, looked at the maid, and said calmly:

"Bring me one of those little biscuits we had yesterday."

Towards eight o'clock the maid came back to say that Don Franco had
returned, but only to go directly to his room for his passport, coming
down again immediately, and he had then ordered the footman to find a
boatman who would take him to Lugano. The Marchesa said never a word,
but later in the day she sent word to her confidant Pasotti that she was
expecting him. Pasotti took in the situation at a glance, and remained
with her more than half an hour. The lady was determined to find out
where and how her grandson had spent the night. Pasotti had already
heard some rumours, which he now repeated, concerning a nocturnal visit
of Don Franco's to Casa Rigey; but more reliable and precise information
was desired. The cunning _Tartufo_, by nature as curious as a hound,
that goes about following every scent, poking his nose into every hole,
and rubbing it against every pair of trowsers, promised to furnish the
Marchesa with such information in the course of a day or two, and then
took himself off, his eyes sparkling, rubbing his hands in anticipation
of a pleasant chase.


FOOTNOTE:

[H] _Parpagliota_: a small coin then in circulation, and worth about
twenty centimes (?). [_Translator's note._]



CHAPTER V

THE ROGUE AT WORK


The next morning, Pasotti having imbibed his coffee and milk, lay
pondering the plan of the chase until half-past ten, when he summoned
Signora Barborin, who slept in another room because her snoring
disturbed the "Controller," as she respectfully called her husband. "He
is quite right," the poor deaf woman would say, "it is a terribly bad
habit, this snoring of mine!" She was older than Pasotti, whom she had
accepted as her second husband because her heart was very susceptible,
and to whom she had brought certain moneys which he had long coveted,
and was now enjoying. The Controller was fond of her in his own way; he
obliged her to make calls, to go on boating excursions, to take long
walks in the hills, all of which things were torments to her. He made
fun of her deafness, sent her out covered with silks and feathers, and
at home made her work like any drudge. In spite of all this she
respected and served him like a slave, in fear and trembling it is true,
but not without affection. When she did not call him "the Controller"
she called him "Pasotti," but she never allowed herself to use a more
familiar appellation.

Pasotti, with a face as stern as any satrap, ordered her by gestures to
go to the drawer for a white shirt, to the wardrobe for his second-best
suit, to a cupboard for a pair of boots. When his wife had prepared
everything, hunting anxiously here and there, continually facing about
to follow the eyes and gestures of the master who several times called
her a fool, when she would stare open-mouthed at him, striving to catch
the word she had only seen, Pasotti stuck his legs out of bed, and said:

"Here you are!"

Signora Barborin knelt before him, and began pulling on his stockings,
while the Controller, stretching out his arm to the pedestal, took his
snuff-box, and, having opened it, continued his previous meditations,
his fingers buried in the snuff. He intended to make several visits of
discovery, but in what order should he arrange them? From what his
farmer had told him, he judged that Signor Giacomo Puttini's Marianna,
and perhaps even Signor Giacomo himself must know something about Don
Franco, and certainly something must be known in Castello. While Signora
Barborin was tying the second shoe-lace, Pasotti remembered that it was
Tuesday. Every Tuesday Signor Giacomo, with a few friends, was in the
habit of going to the market at Lugano, or rather to the tavern called
"del Lordo," in order to vary the daily wine of Grimelli by a weekly
glass of an undiluted vintage, and he often came home in an
affectionate and communicative frame of mind. It would therefore be
better to call upon him late in the day, say between four and five. In
fancy Pasotti was already holding him in his hand, and managing him as
he liked. With a malicious smile he raised his fingers from the
snuff-box, shook the pinch to the proper dimensions by means of a few
gentle, even raps, enjoyed it at his leisure, and then his wife having
given him his handkerchief, he rewarded her by mumbling with a benign
expression of countenance, as he rolled the handkerchief into a ball:
"Poor woman! poor creature!"

When, after half an hour's labour he had put on and buttoned up his
coat, he exclaimed, seriously: "What d---- hard work!" and went to the
glass. Then his wife ventured to edge cautiously towards the door,
saying very timidly--

"Can I go now?"

Pasotti turned round frowning and imperious, and beckoning to her to
approach, he drew about her head and person certain lines in the air,
which meant a hat and shawl. She did not understand, and stood staring
at him, with her mouth open. Then she pointed her forefinger at his
breast, questioning him with her eyes, and her lifted eyebrows, as if
suspecting he wanted those articles for himself. Pasotti answered this
questioning in the same manner, with three stabs of his forefinger,
which signified: "you, you, you!" Then, making the motions of cutting
something with his open hand, he gave her to understand that she was to
go out with him. She started several times, astonished and protesting,
opened her eyes extremely wide, and said in that voice of hers which
seemed to come from the cellar:

"Where?"

The Controller's only answer was a fulminating glance and a gesture:
"march!" He did not intend to give any further information.

Signora Barborin struggled a little longer.

"I have not breakfasted yet," she said.

Her husband took her by the shoulders, drew her towards him, and shouted
into her face:

"You will breakfast later."

Only at Albogasio Inferiore, in front of the Annunziata, did he inform
her, by pointing to the place with his stick, that they were going to
Cadate, to that old manor-house planted in the lake between Casarico and
Albogasio, and generally known as "the Palace," where there lived, all
alone, in the small rooms of the upper story, the priest, Don Giuseppe
Costabarbieri and his servant Maria, called "Maria of the Palace."
Pasotti knowing well that both were eager listeners, but extremely
cautious in talking, wished to examine them one at a time, without
seeming to do so, and, if he found any soft spot, he intended to press
it very gently. He had brought his wife with him that she might help him
in this delicate matter of taking them one at a time, and she, poor
innocent, trotted on behind him with short, quick steps, and followed
him down the flight of one hundred and twenty-nine steps called the
"Calcinera," never suspecting the perfidious part she was to act.

The lake was like oil, and Don Giuseppe, a fine, pursy priest, short and
fat, with white hair, a ruddy complexion and small glistening eyes, was
seated near the fig-tree in his garden, with a black straw hat on his
head, and a white handkerchief round his neck, angling for carp, certain
big, fat carp, grown old and wary, that might be seen moving about very
slowly under the water, all for love of the figs, and that were as
inquisitive and, at the same time, as cautious as the priest and his
servant. This latter was not visible. Pasotti finding the street-door
open, went in, calling out for Don Giuseppe and Maria. As no one
answered he planted his wife in a chair and went down into the garden,
making straight for the fig-tree, where Don Giuseppe was sitting, who,
on catching sight of him, went into a fit of ceremonious convulsions. He
threw down his fishing-rod and went towards Pasotti vociferating: "Oh,
Lord! Oh, Lord! Oh, dear me! In this state! My dear Controller! Come
up-stairs! Come up-stairs! My dear Controller! In this state! I hope you
will excuse me! I hope you will excuse me!" But Pasotti would not hear
of "going up," he was bound to remain where he was. Don Giuseppe began
bawling for "Maria! Maria!" Presently Maria's big face appeared at a
window in the upper story.

Don Giuseppe called to her to bring down a chair. Then the Controller
revealed the presence of his wife, whereupon the big face disappeared
and Don Giuseppe had another fit.

"How is this? How is this? Signora Barborin? She here? Oh, Lord! Come
up-stairs!" and he started forward impelled by obsequiousness, but
Pasotti reduced him to obedience, at first catching him by the arm, and
then declaring that he wished to see him take one or two of those
monstrous carp; and notwithstanding Don Giuseppe's protests: "It is no
use! I sha'n't catch anything! They're far too cunning, these fish.
_They see!_" in the end he was obliged to throw his line.

At first Pasotti pretended to watch him, but finally he also threw his
line.

He began by asking Don Giovanni how long it was since he had been to
Castello. Upon being informed that he had been there the day before to
see his friend, the curate Intrioni, the good Tartuffe, who could not
abide Intrioni, burst into a perfect panegyric of him. What a jewel,
this curate of Castello! What a heart of gold! And had Don Giuseppe been
to Casa Rigey? No, Signora Teresa was too ill. More panegyrics
concerning Signora Teresa and Luisa. What a splendid creature! What
circumspection, what high principles, what sentiment! And the Maironi
affair? It was still going on, was it not? Had it gone far?

"I know nothing, nothing, nothing!" Don Giuseppe said sharply.

At that hasty denial Pasotti's eyes sparkled. He took a step forward.
Oh, come now. It was not possible that Don Giuseppe did not know
anything! It was not possible that he had not discussed the matter with
Intrioni! Was not Intrioni aware that Don Franco had spent the night at
Casa Rigey?

"I know nothing about it, nothing at all!" Don Giuseppe repeated.

Then Pasotti declared that by this concealment of certain well known
circumstances, many were led to suspect evil. What the deuce! Don Franco
had of course gone to Casa Rigey with the most honourable intentions,
therefore----

"A bite! A bite!" whispered Don Giuseppe hurriedly, and he leaned far
out over the parapet, grasped the end of the pole firmly, and fixed his
gaze on the water as if a fish were about to seize the hook. "A bite!"

Pasotti, much vexed, gazed into the water also, but declared he could
see nothing.

"He has made off, the wretch! But his mouth almost touched the hook. He
must have felt the prick!" said Don Giuseppe, sighing and straightening
himself up. He also had felt the prick of the hook, and was trying to
"make off" as the fish had done.

The other renewed his attack, but in vain. Don Giuseppe had seen
nothing, heard nothing, talked of nothing, knew nothing. Pasotti was
silent, and the priest in turn, threw out a bit of timid malice: "They
don't bite well to-day,--there must be something in the air."

In the house, meanwhile, the dialogue between Maria and Signora Barborin
had proceeded most unsatisfactorily, after the first affectionate
exchange of greetings, which had been a great success. Maria proposed by
gestures that they go into the garden, but Signora Pasotti begged with
clasped hands, to be allowed to remain in her chair. Then the big Maria
took another chair, and seating herself beside her guest tried to talk
to her. But she found it impossible to make her understand, no matter
how she shrieked, so gave up in despair, and taking her great cat upon
her lap, talked to him instead.

Poor Signora Barborin, who was quite resigned, watched the cat with her
great black eyes, dimmed by age and grief. Ah! here was Pasotti at last,
with Don Giuseppe, who at once began to puff out his:

"Oh, good Lord! My dear Signora Barborin! Pray excuse me!" Maria having
confessed to the _Scior Controlor_ that his wife and she had not been
able to understand each other, her master--as a mark of respect for
Signora Pasotti--called the servant a "block head," and, as she
attempted to justify herself, he prudently checked her by an imperious
wave of the hand and a string of "there, there, there's." Then he
signalled to her mysteriously with his head, and she left the room.
Pasotti followed her, and told her that his wife really felt obliged to
call on the Rigeys, but was in doubt as to how she should act, having
heard certain rumours which were current, and that she had greatly hoped
to gain some information from Maria, for "Maria always knew everything."

"What foolish talk!" said Maria, much flattered. "I never know anything;
but I can tell you to whom your wife must apply. To Signor Giacomo
Puttini. It is Signor Giacomo Puttini who always knows everything."

"Well done!" thought Pasotti, adding these remarks to what the farmer
had said, and concluding he was on the track at last. At the same time
he shrugged his shoulders incredulously. Signor Giacomo might perhaps be
aware of what was going on in the moon, but that was all; he never knew
anything else. Maria insisted, and the old fox began to press her with
questions, beating cautiously about the bush; but he found her obdurate,
and presently he saw that he should have his labour for his pains, and
that he must be satisfied with that one bit of information. He became
silent, and half satisfied, half preoccupied, returned to the room where
Don Giuseppe was explaining to Signora Barborin, by means of appropriate
gestures, that Maria was going to bring her something to eat. In fact
the woman appeared presently with a square, glass jar, full of
brandy-cherries, a renowned specialty of Don Giuseppe's, who was in the
habit of offering them solemnly to his guests, in his own peculiar
Italian:

"Allow me to offer you something! Will you try a few of my cherries?
_Magara con un tochello di pane?_ Perhaps with a slice of bread?" And
then, lapsing into dialect once more: "_Maria, tajee gio un poo de
pan_--cut off a bit of bread."

Signora Barborin feasted on bread alone, following the advice of her
satanic husband, who himself took cherries without bread. Then they went
away together, and she was permitted to return to Albogasio, while the
Controller set off in the direction of Casa Gilardoni.

"That Pasotti is a rogue," said Maria when she had bolted the
street-door.

"He is not only a rogue, but an extra big rogue! A _bargnif_!" Don
Giuseppe exclaimed, remembering the hook; and by the application of the
dialect title of "Bargnif," which means the arch-fiend, considered in
the light of his great cunning, these two mild beings found relief for
their feelings, and a compensation for so many things given unwillingly:
courtesies, smiles and cherries.

       *       *       *       *       *

Professor Gilardoni was reading perched on his belvedere in the
kitchen-garden, when he caught sight of Pasotti coming towards him
behind Pinella, between the rows of beets and turnips. He had little
liking for the Controller, with whom he had exchanged only one or two
calls, and who had the reputation of being a _tedescone_, a rank German.
Nevertheless, being inclined to think the best of those with whom he was
only slightly acquainted, he found no difficulty in extending to him the
same cordial courtesy which it was his habit to show to every one. He
went to meet his guest, velvet cap in hand, and after a skirmish of
compliments which proved an easy victory for Pasotti, Gilardoni returned
to the belvedere with him.

Pasotti, on the other hand, felt a lively dislike for the Professor, not
so much because he knew him to be a Liberal, as because, though
Gilardoni did not go to Mass as often as he himself did, he lived like a
Puritan, loving neither the table nor the bottle, neither tobacco nor
certain loose discourses. Moreover he did not play _tarocchi_. One
evening, when talking in the kitchen-garden with Don Franco, of the
tremendous bouts of eating and drinking which Pasotti and his friends
often celebrated in the taverns of Bisnago, the Professor had said
something which was overheard by the big curate, one of the gluttons,
whose boat, in which he himself sat fishing, happened to be gliding
along very softly, close to the walls. "Miserable knave!" the most
worthy Controller had exclaimed when the words were repeated to him, his
face wearing the expression of a _bargnif bilioso_, of Satan with a
bilious attack. The exclamation had been followed by a contemptuous
snarl, after which the Controller spat protestingly. This, however, did
not prevent him from overflowing on the present occasion with excuses
for having unduly postponed his visit, nor from immediately spying out
the volume resting on the rustic table of the belvedere. Gilardoni saw
him glance at it and, as the book in question was one of those forbidden
by the government, he took it up almost instinctively as soon as he had
started the conversation, and rested it on his knee in such a manner
that Pasotti could not read the title. This precaution disturbed
Pasotti, who was just then praising the little villa and the garden in
all their particulars, and in the tone best adapted to each part; the
beets, with amiable familiarity, the aloes, with serious and frowning
admiration. An angry light flashed in his eyes, and then disappeared.

"Fortunate man," he sighed. "If my affairs would permit it, I myself
should like to live in Valsolda."

"It is a peaceful spot," said the Professor.

"Yes, a peaceful spot; and, besides, nowadays those who have served the
Government are not comfortable in the big towns. People make no
distinction between a faithful official who attends strictly to his own
duties, as I have done, and a police-spy. We are exposed to many
suspicions, many humiliations----"

The Professor turned red, and was sorry he had removed the book from the
little table. In fact, notwithstanding his assumption of humility,
Pasotti was too proud to act the spy, and, owing to this pride, or
perhaps to some good strain in him, he had never done so. Thus in his
words there was a grain of sincerity, a grain of gold, which sufficed to
give them the ring of true metal. Gilardoni, touched by this, offered
his guest a glass of beer, and hastened away in search of Pinella, glad
of an excuse for leaving the book on the little table.

Hardly had the Professor disappeared when Pasotti snatched up the
volume, and gave it an inquisitive glance; then he laid it down on the
same spot, and stationed himself at the top of the steps, toying with
the snuff in the box he held open in his hand, and smiling a smile half
of beatitude, half of admiration, at the lake, the hills and the sky.
The book was a volume of Giusti, pretending to have been published in
Brussels or rather _Brusselle_, and bearing the title: _Italian Poems,
from manuscripts_. Written across one corner of the fly-leaf was the
name: "Mariano Fornic." It needed less keenness than Pasotti possessed
to perceive at once in that heteroclite, the anagram of Franco Maironi.

"How lovely! What a paradise!" said he softly, while the Professor was
coming up the steps followed by Pinella with the beer.

Presently, between two sips of beer, he confessed that his visit was not
entirely of a disinterested nature. He declared that he was in love
with the blossoming wall that upheld the kitchen-garden on the
lake-side, and that he wished to copy it at Albogasio Superiore, where,
though the lake was wanting, there were plenty of bare walls. Where did
the Professor get those aloes, those roses and caper-bushes?

"Why," the other answered frankly. "Maironi gave them to me."

"Don Franco?" Pasotti exclaimed. "Well done! I will appeal to Don
Franco, who is always very kind to me."

And he took out his snuff-box. "Poor Don Franco," said he, with all the
tenderness of a compassionate rogue as he scrutinised and fingered the
snuff. "Poor young man! He sometimes flies into a passion, but, after
all, he is a splendid fellow. A heart of the best! Poor young man! Do
you see him often?"

"Yes, quite often."

"If only his hopes could be realised, poor young man! His hopes and hers
also, of course. That affair is not off, is it?"

Pasotti put this question with the skill of a great actor, with
affectionate but discreet interest, with no more curiosity than was
fitting, and with the intention of lubricating and softening somewhat
Gilardoni's closed heart, that it might open of itself, little by
little. But Gilardoni's heart, instead of spreading itself open at that
gentle touch, contracted and closed tighter than ever.

"I don't know," the Professor replied, feeling the colour mounting to
his face, and indeed he turned scarlet. In his mental note-book Pasotti
immediately made a note of the embarrassed manner, and of the heightened
colour. "He would be unwise to throw up the game. It is only natural
that the Marchesa should create difficulties for them, but after all,
she is a good creature, and devoted to him. Poor woman, what a fright
she had the other night!"

He glanced at the Professor who was frowning in uneasy silence, and
reflected: You will not speak? Then you know. "Just think of it! Not to
say where he was going! What do you think of that?"

"But I know nothing about it, I don't understand." Gilardoni exclaimed,
frowning more darkly still and growing ever more uneasy.

And now Pasotti, who was aware that the Professor had long since ceased
to visit the Rigeys, but was ignorant of the reason why, made a move
which was worthy only of a novice in roguery.

"You might enquire about it at Castello." said he, with a malicious
simper.

At this point Gilardoni, who was already boiling with rage, overflowed.

"Pray oblige me by dropping this subject," said he, angrily, "oblige me
by dropping it."

Pasotti grew sullen. Ceremonious, insinuating, and given to adulation
though he was, his pride would not allow him to suffer an unpleasant
word calmly, and he took offence at every shadow. He said no more, and
in a few minutes took his leave with dignified coolness, and retired
through the beets and the turnips, nursing his wrath. On reaching the
top of the Contrada dei Mal'ari, the _bargnif_ paused a moment to think,
resting his chin on his hand, then he started towards the shore of
Casarico, moving slowly, his head bent low, but with glistening eyes,
like the poodle that smells the hidden truffle in the air. Don
Giuseppe's frightened denials, Maria's obstinate denials, and the
Professor's embarrassment and outburst of temper, told him that a
truffle really existed, and that it must be a big one. He had thought of
going to Loggi where dwelt Paolin and Paolon, both of whom were well
informed, but then he had remembered that it was Tuesday, and that
probably he would not find them. No, it would be better to go directly
up to Castello from Casarico, and sniff and hunt about in the house of a
certain Signora Cecca, an admirable woman, all heart, and famous for the
assiduous watch she kept from her window over the entire Valsolda by
means of a powerful spy-glass. She could tell you any day who had gone
to Lugano with the boatman Pin, or with Panighet; noted the
conversations the unhappy Pinella held with a certain Mochét in front of
the church at Albogasio, half a mile distant; she knew how many days it
had taken Engineer Ribera to drink the little cask of wine which his
boat carried back empty from the house at Oria to the cellar at S.
Margherita. If Franco had been to Casa Rigey Signora Cecca must surely
know it.

In the passage that leads from Casarico to the narrow street of
Castello, Pasotti heard hurried steps behind him, and then some one
brushed past him in the darkness and he believed he had recognised a man
nicknamed "légora fugada" or the "hunted hare," because of the furious
pace at which he always walked. This honest man, who was even more
inquisitive than Pasotti, was a most worthy person who loved to know
things just for the sake of knowing them, and for no other reason. He
always went about alone, was everywhere, appearing and disappearing like
a flash, sometimes in one place, sometimes in another, like certain
large, winged insects, which pass with a glance, a whirr, a touch, and
then, hush! they are neither heard nor seen again until there comes
another glance, another whirr, another touch. He had seen the Pasottis
enter the "Palace," and the unusual hour had caused him to suspect
something. Lying flat in a small field he had seen Signora Barborin turn
homewards, and the Controller start towards Casarico. Then, having
followed at a distance, this individual had posted himself behind one of
the pilasters of the portico of Casarico while Pasotti was calling on
Gilardoni, and now he had slipped past him, taking advantage of the dark
passage, and hastening to reach Castello before him, that he might watch
his movements from some point of vantage.

In fact he saw him enter Signora Cecca's house.

The old lady, who had the goitre, was in her little parlour, holding a
small urchin on her left arm, while with her free hand she supported a
very long and slender pasteboard tube, which was struck slanting across
the window like a wall-gun and pointed down at the sparkling lake, at a
white sail, filled with the _breva_. On the entrance of Pasotti, who
came forward with stooping shoulders, his face suffused with a most
gentle gaiety, the kindly and hospitable old dame hastened to put down
the monstrous pasteboard nose, which she was so fond of poking into the
most distant affairs of others, where her own parchment nose, though it
was long beyond measure, could not reach. She received the Controller as
she might have received a saintly miracle-worker, who had come to remove
her goitre.

"Oh, how kind of you! Dear _Sior Controlor_! Oh, how kind! What a
pleasure! What a pleasure!"

And she made him sit down and nearly suffocated him with her offers of
hospitality.

"A piece of cake! A bit of nut-candy! Dear _Sior Controlor_! A little
wine! A taste of _rosoho_!--You must excuse me," she added, for the
youngster had begun to whine. "He is my little grandson, you know. My
little pet."

Pasotti took a great deal of urging, having not only Don Giovanni's
cherries, but also Gilardoni's beer in his stomach, but finally he was
obliged to yield, and resign himself to gnawing a piece of that accursed
almond cake, while the urchin clung to his grandmother's goitre.

At this the sarcastic rogue said pathetically, laughing in his sleeve
the while: "Poor Signora Cecca! Twice a mother!" When he had enquired
for her husband and for all her descendants even unto the third
generation, he brought forward Signora Teresa Rigey. How was that poor
lady? Bad! Really very bad? But since when had she been worse? Had there
been any cause? Some trouble, perhaps? The old troubles were well known,
but had there been some fresh ones? Perhaps on Luisina's account? About
the marriage? And did Don Franco come to Castello? Ah, not in the
daytime, but perhaps----?

As the patient who is being questioned and examined by the surgeon
searching for the painful, hidden spot, answers ever more briefly, ever
more fearfully as the hand draws nearer and nearer to the point, and
starts and draws back as soon as the spot is touched, so Signora Cecca
answered Pasotti ever more briefly, ever more cautiously, until, at that
"but" which touched the painful spot so delicately, she started,
exclaiming--

"A little more cake, _Sior Controlor_! It is a cake light enough for
young girls."

Pasotti in his heart cursed the "young girls" and their cake, a
concoction of honey, chalk and almond oil, but deemed it prudent to
swallow another mouthful before once more touching, or rather pressing
the tender spot he had discovered.

"I know nothing! I know nothing! Absolutely nothing!" Signora Cecca
exclaimed. "Try sounding Puttini. Try Signor Giacomo. And pray don't ask
me anything more." Again! Pasotti's face shone at the prospect of
getting the unlucky Signor Giacomo into his clutches. Thus the eyes of a
falcon might shine at the joyous prospect of snatching a frog, and of
holding him in his claws, to toy with at pleasure. Presently he took his
departure well satisfied with everything save with the chalky cake,
which lay like lead in his stomach.

       *       *       *       *       *

Casa Puttini, which, within its minute, genteel appearance, resembled
the little old gentleman who ruled it, in a black coat and white stock,
stood just below that stately pile, Casa Pasotti, on the road to
Albogasio Inferiore. The falcon went there in the afternoon, towards
five o'clock, with a cunning expression on his face. He knocked at the
door and then listened. He was there! The unlucky frog was there! And he
was quarrelling as usual with the perfidious servant. Pasotti knocked
louder. "Go down!" said Signor Giacomo, but Marianna would not hear of
going down to open the door. "Go down! I am the master!" It was all in
vain. Pasotti knocked again, knocked like a battering-ram. "Who the
devil can it be!" scolded Puttini, and he came down puffing: "Apff!
apff!" to open the door. "Oh, most gracious Controller!" said he winking
hard, and raising his eyebrows pathetically. "Pray excuse me! That awful
servant! I am quite worn out! You would not believe the things that go
on in this house!"

"That is a lie!" Marianna cried from above.

"Hold your tongue, you!" And then Signor Giacomo began telling his woes,
stopping from time to time to silence the protests of the invisible
servant.

"Just fancy! This morning I went to Lugano. I got home about three
o'clock. On the doorstep--look there--I saw some splashes. Hold your
tongue, you! I did not heed them, and went straight in. At the head of
the kitchen-stairs there were more splashes. Be quiet, will you?--What
can have been spilled? said I to myself, and I stooped and touched the
spots with my finger. It was something greasy; I smelt it, it was oil.
Then I followed the splashes, touching and sniffing, sniffing and
touching. All oil, most gracious Controller! So I said to myself again:
Either it came in, or it went out. If it came in, the farmer brought it,
and in that case there will be splashes outside the door, and they will
extend upwards, if it went out, that means that this accursed.... Hold
your tongue, I say!... took it to S. Mamette and sold it, and then the
splashes outside will extend downwards. So back I went, always
following the splashes and presently I found myself here at the door.
Most gracious Controller, those splashes all extended downwards! That
d----"

At this point the servant's voice rang out like the bell on an
alarm-clock, and no "hold your tongue" was strong enough to stem that
shrill flow of angry words. Pasotti tried, and not succeeding, flew into
a passion himself, and shouted: "Oh, you cheat!" following up that title
with a string of insults, at each of which Signor Giacomo gave a low
grunt of satisfaction. "Yes, yes, give it to her! that's right! I am
much obliged to you. Yes, shout,--that's right. You torment, you!--I am
really greatly obliged to you, most gracious Controller! Really greatly
obliged!"

When Marianna had been overpowered and reduced to silence, Pasotti told
Signor Giacomo that he must speak a few words with him. "I am really not
up to it," the little man complained. "You must excuse me, for I feel
quite ill."

"Not up to it, not up to it, indeed!" shouted Marianna who had revived.
"You had better tell us how you wear yourself out going up to Castello
at night to see the girls!"

"Hold your tongue," Puttini shrieked, while Pasotti exclaimed, with a
fiendish grin: "What, what, what!" Seeing that Puttini was becoming
furious, he took him by the arm, and calming him with peaceful and
affectionate language, dragged him away to his own house where he at
once summoned his wife, and started a game of three-handed _tarocchi_,
with the purpose of soothing the poor frog, and getting a firmer grip of
him.

       *       *       *       *       *

If Signora Barborin played badly, Signor Giacomo, meditating, pondering
and puffing, played worse. He was an extremely timid player, and never
set himself up alone against the other two, but to-day at the very first
deal, he discovered that he held such extraordinary cards that he was
seized with a fit of courage, and, to use the language of the game, he
_entered_. "Goodness knows what sort of a hand he has!" Pasotti growled.

"I don't say.... I don't say.... There certainly are several friars who
walk in slippers."

Signor Giacomo's "I don't say" meant that he held marvellous cards, and
the friars in slippers, in his lingo, were the four kings of the game.
While he was getting ready to play, feasting his eyes upon his cards,
and feeling each one in turn, Pasotti took the opportunity of opening
fire, hoping to make him lose the game, into the bargain. "Come now,"
said he, "tell us about it! When was it you went to Castello at night?"

"Oh Lord! Oh Lord! Don't talk about it," Signor Giacomo replied, growing
very red and sorting his cards faster than ever.

"Well, well, play away then. We can talk later. I know the whole story
any way!"

Poor Signor Giacomo, how could he play with that bone in his throat? He
sorted and puffed, led when he should not have done so, blundered in
adding up the points, lost two of the friars and their slippers as well,
and in spite of his splendid hand, left several markers in the clutches
of Pasotti who was grinning with delight, and several more on the little
plate beside Signora Barborin, who kept repeating with clasped hands:
"What have you done, Signor Giacomo? what have you done?"

Pasotti gathered up the cards and began shuffling them, casting sardonic
glances at Signor Giacomo, who did not know where to look.

"Certainly," said he, "I know everything. Signora Cecca told me the
whole story. I assure you, my dear Political Deputy, you will be called
upon to answer for this before the Imperial and Royal Commissary of
Porlezza."

With these words Pasotti passed the cards to Puttini, that he might cut.
But Puttini, hearing that dreaded name, began to groan:

"Oh Lord! Oh Lord! What is that you say?... I know nothing.... Oh Lord!
The Imperial and Royal Commissary?... I assure you I can't see what
for! ... apff!"

"Certainly," Pasotti repeated. He was waiting for a word that should
enlighten him, and by pointing first to the door and then to his own
mouth, he made his wife understand that she was to fetch something to
drink.

"And that dreadful engineer as well!" Signor Giacomo exclaimed, as if
speaking to himself.

As the fisherman who, pulling hard on the long, heavy line quivering, he
fancies, with the weight of the one big fish he has been angling for so
long, finally redoubles his caution and skill, as, with a thrill, he
sees two great shadowy fishes instead of one rising from the depths, so
Pasotti, upon hearing this allusion to the engineer, was thrilled and
amazed, and began preparing, with the most exquisitely delicate touch,
to draw out this secret concerning Signor Giacomo and Ribera.

"Certainly," said he, "you did wrong."

Silence on Signor Giacomo's part.

Pasotti insisted.

"You did very wrong."

But just then Signora Barborin entered, smiling genially, and bearing a
tray with the bottle and glasses. The wine was of a dark red, shot
through with ruby lights, and Signor Giacomo contemplated it if not yet
tenderly, at least benevolently. This wine had an aroma of austere
virtue, and Signor Giacomo smelt of it affectionately, gazed at it with
emotion, and then smelt of it again. This wine had that mellow richness
which fills both palate and soul with its flavour, and indeed it
possessed exactly that honest and pure tartness that its aroma
pre-announced, and Signor Giacomo sipped it and wished it were not
liquid and evanescent, tasted it, smacked his lips over it, and rolled
it under his tongue. When, from time to time, he rested his glass on the
little table, neither his hand nor his languid gaze were withdrawn from
it.

"Poor Engineer! Poor Ribera!" Pasotti exclaimed. "He is a most upright
man, but ..."

And as he pulled and pulled the unlucky Signor Giacomo began to rise to
the hook and the line.

"I myself did not wish it," he said. "'Twas he made me go--'Come along,'
said he. 'Why do you not wish to go? There will be no harm done. The
thing is honest.' 'Yes!' I answered, 'so it seems to me also, but all
this secrecy?' 'On account of the grandmother,' he replied. 'But then,'
I asked, 'what sort of a figure shall you and I cut?' 'We are just a
couple of simpletons!' he answered, with that way of his--honest,
old-fashioned soul that he is,--that always gets round me. 'I will go,'
said I."

Here he paused. Pasotti waited a while, and then gave the line a
cautious jerk. "The trouble is," said he, "that the story leaked out at
Castello."

"Yes, Sir, and I was sure it would. The family and the engineer might
keep the secret, and of course I should never speak, but the priest and
the sacristan would surely talk."

The priest? The sacristan? Ah! at last Pasotti understood. He staggered!
He had not expected such a tremendous disclosure. He filled the unhappy
Signor Giacomo's glass, and had little difficulty in getting all the
particulars of the wedding out of him. Then he tried to find out what
plans for the future the young people had formed, but in this he did not
succeed. He began shuffling the cards with the intention of continuing
the game, but Signor Giacomo looked at his watch, and found that it
wanted only nine minutes to seven, at which hour he was in the habit of
winding his clock. Three minutes in the street, two minutes on the
stairs, and there remained only four minutes for leave-taking. "Reckon
it out for yourself, most gracious Controller. It is as I say: there is
no doubt about it."

Signora Bardorin, noticing this consultation, questioned her husband
about it. Pasotti raised his hands to his mouth, and shouted into her
face: "He wants to go and see his sweetheart!" "What nonsense! What
nonsense!" poor Signor Giacomo exclaimed, turning all colours; and
Signora Pasotti, having understood by a miracle, opened her mouth
enormously wide, not knowing whether or no to believe her husband. "His
sweetheart? Oh, what nonsense. It is foolish talk, is it not, Signor
Giacomo? Of course you might have a sweetheart, I don't deny that.
You're not old, but...!" Seeing that he really intended to be off, she
tried to detain him, telling him she had some chestnuts from Venegono on
the fire, which were nearly done, and begging him to accept some of
them. But neither the chestnuts nor Pasotti's reproaches could persuade
Signor Giacomo, and he departed with the spectre of the Imperial and
Royal Commissary in his heart, harassed by unpleasant twinges of
conscience, and a vague sense of dissatisfaction with himself, which he
could not explain, and feeling instinctively that the perfidious
servant's insolence was, after all, preferable to Pasotti's cajoleries.

As to the latter, his eyes shone even brighter than usual. He intended
going to Cressogno at once. Being an indefatigable walker he expected to
get there by eight o'clock. He was hugely pleased at the prospect of
going to the Marchesa with his great discovery _in pectore_, of acting
mysteriously, of dropping the most artful hints, one by one, and of
obliging her to wrest the particulars from him. For his own
gratification he was already preparing a gentle and soothing little
speech to lay upon the wound of the imperturbable old dame, so that she
might not be able to hide it, and that no one might complain of him, not
even Franco. He went to the kitchen where he got them to light a lantern
for him, for the night was very dark, and then he set out.

At the door he met his steward who was just coming in. The steward
greeted him, and carried a large basket of fruit into the kitchen, and,
having helped the maid put it away, he seated himself by the fire, and
said placidly:

"Signora Teresa of Castello has just passed away."



CHAPTER VI

THE OLD LADY OF MARBLE


The door was opened a little way, very, very softly; the maid looked in,
and called to Franco, who was absorbed in prayer, kneeling by a chair
near the couch upon which the dead woman lay. Franco did not hear, and
it was Luisa who rose. She went to listen to the woman's whispered
request, said something in reply, and when the maid had withdrawn, stood
waiting for some one. As no one appeared she pushed the door open and
said aloud: "Come in, come in." A great sob answered her. Luisa
stretched out both hands and Professor Gilardoni seized them. They stood
some time thus, motionless, fighting their sorrow with tightly pressed
lips, he more shaken than she. Luisa was the first to move. She gently
withdrew one hand, and, with the other, led the Professor into the
chamber of death.

Signora Teresa had passed away in the drawing-room in the armchair from
which she had never been able to rise after the night of the wedding.
They had made the sofa into a funeral couch, and laid her out upon it.
The sweet face rested there on the pillow, showing waxen in the light of
the four candles, the lips were slightly parted, and it was as if a
smile shone through the closed eyelids. The couch and the clothes were
strewn with autumn flowers; cyclamen, dahlias and chrysanthemums. "See
how beautiful she is," said Luisa, in a tender, quiet tone that went to
the heart. The Professor stood leaning upon a chair at some distance
from the bed.

"Do you realise it, Mamma," Luisa said softly, "how much you are
beloved?"

She knelt down, and taking one of the dead hands, began kissing it,
caressing it, and murmuring sweet words over it in a low voice; then she
was silent, and, replacing the hand, she rose, kissed the brow and
contemplated the face with clasped hands. She recalled her mother's
reproofs in past years, remembering every one since her childhood, for
she had always felt them deeply. Once more she fell upon her knees, and
pressed her lips to the icy hand with an impulse of affection more
ardent than if she had been dwelling upon past caresses. Then taking a
cyclamen from her mother's shoulder, she rose and offered it to the
Professor. He took it, weeping, and going to Franco, whom he now met for
the first time since that night, he embraced him with silent emotion,
and felt his embrace returned. Then, stepping very softly, he left the
room.

It was striking eight o'clock. Signora Teresa had died the night before
at six; in twenty-six hours Luisa had never rested for a moment, and had
left the room only four or five times for a few minutes. Franco it was
who often went out, and remained away a long time.

Summoned in secret he had reached Castello just in time to see the poor
mother alive, and it had fallen to his lot to perform all the sad
offices which death imposes, for Uncle Piero, in spite of his years, had
not the slightest knowledge of these matters, and was greatly bewildered
by them.

Now, hearing it strike eight, he went to his wife and gently urged her
to take a little rest, but Luisa answered him at once in a way that put
an end to his insistence. The funeral was to take place the next morning
at nine o'clock. She had wished it to be postponed for as long as
possible, and intended to remain with her mother to the last. In her
slim person there was an indomitable vigour capable of withstanding
still greater trials. For her, her mother was there still, on that
narrow couch, among the flowers. She did not think that a part of her
was elsewhere, did not look out of the west window, seeking her among
the tiny stars that trembled above the hills of Carona. Her one thought
was that in a few hours, the darling mother, who had lived so many years
for her alone, caring for naught else on earth save her happiness, would
be laid away to sleep for ever under the great walnut-trees of Looch, in
the shadowy solitude where the little cemetery of Castello rests in
silence, while she herself would continue to enjoy life, the sun, and
love. She had answered Franco almost sharply as if, in some way,
affection for the living were an offence to the affection for the dead.
Then, fearing she had hurt him, she repented, kissed him and endeavoured
to pray, knowing that in this she would be pleasing him, and that
certainly her mother would have expected this of her. She began reciting
the _Pater_, the _Ave_ and the _Requiem_ over and over again, but
without deriving the slightest comfort from them, experiencing, rather,
a secret irritation, an unwelcome drying up of her grief. She had always
practised religion, but, after the ardour of her first Communion had
died out, her soul had ceased to be associated in religious observance.
Her mother had lived rather for the next world than for this; she had
regulated her every action, her every word, her every thought with that
end in view. In her precocious intellectual development, Luisa's ideas
and sentiments had taken another direction, with that determined vigour
which was one of her characteristics. She covered these views, however,
with certain half-conscious, half-unconscious dissimulations, partly for
love of her mother, partly because some germ of religion, sown by
maternal precepts, fostered by example, and strengthened by habit, had
not died out. Since her fourteenth year she had been growing ever more
inclined to look beyond this present life, and at the same time not to
consider herself; to live for others, for the earthly good of others,
but always, however, according to a strong and fierce sense of justice.
She went to church, performed the external duties of her religion,
without incredulity, but also without the conviction that they were
pleasing to God. She had a confused conception of a God so great, so
lofty, that no immediate contact was possible between Him and mankind.
Sometimes, indeed, she feared she might be mistaken, but her possible
error seemed to her of a nature such as no God of infinite goodness
might punish. She herself did not know how she had come to think thus.

The door opened very softly once more, and a low voice called, "Signor
Don Franco." When Luisa was alone she ceased to pray, and resting her
head upon her mother's pillow, she pressed her lips to the dear
shoulder, closed her eyes and let the flood of memories flow over her
that sprung from that touch, from that familiar odour of lavender. Her
mother's dress was of silk, her best, and had been a present from Uncle
Piero. She had worn it only once, some years before, on the occasion of
a visit to the Marchesa Marioni. The odour of the lavender brought back
this memory also, and with it came scalding tears, acrid with tenderness
and with another sentiment that was not actually hatred, that was not
actually anger, but that held the bitterness of both.

       *       *       *       *       *

Franco could not at once account for the shudder that shook him when he
heard his name called. Early that morning Uncle Piero had written to
the Marchesa, announcing his sister's death in simple but most
respectful language, and had enclosed a note from Franco himself, which
ran as follows:

     "DEAR GRANDMOTHER,--I have not time to write to you because I
     am here, but I will tell you all by word of mouth to-morrow
     evening. I hope you will listen to me as my father and mother
     would have listened."

No answer had as yet come from Cressogno, but now a man from Cressogno
had brought a letter. Where was this man?--Gone; he would not stop a
minute. Franco took the letter and read the address: "_Al. preg. Signor
Ingegnere Pietro Ribera_." At the same time he recognised in the
writing, the hand of the agent's daughter. He went up to Uncle Piero's
room at once. The engineer, who was worn out, had gone to bed.

When Franco brought him the letter he showed neither surprise nor
curiosity, but said, calmly:

"Open it."

Franco placed the light on the chest of drawers, and opened the letter,
keeping his back to the bed. As he stood, he seemed turned to stone; he
neither breathed nor moved.

"Well?" said the uncle.

Silence.

"I understand," the old man added. Then Franco let the letter fall, and
stretching his hands above his head, he uttered a long "Ah!" deep and
hoarse, and laden with amazement and horror.

"Come, come!" Uncle Piero repeated, "what about this letter?"

Franco roused himself, and hastened to embrace him, hardly able to
restrain his sobs.

The placid man bore this storm calmly and patiently for a time, but
presently he began to defend himself, and demanded the letter. "Let me
see it, let me see it," said he, and he muttered, "What can that blessed
woman have written?"

Franco brought the light and the letter, which he handed to Uncle Piero.
His grandmother had written never a word, never a syllable; she had
simply returned the engineer's letter and Franco's note. It was some
time before the uncle could grasp this. He was never quick to understand
things, and this thing was utterly incomprehensible to him! When at last
he did make it out, he could not help saying: "Certainly this is very
hard!" Then, seeing how beside himself Franco was, he added, with the
big solemn voice he used when judging human actions _toto corde_,
"Listen. It is, I should say----" (and he searched for the right word,
in his own peculiar fashion puffing out his cheeks, and emitting a sort
of rattling sound)"----an injustice! But I am by no means so extremely
astonished as you are. Not all the wrong is on her side, my dear fellow,
and so----However, I am sorry for you two, who will have to eat plain
food and live in this miserable little town; but how about me? For my
part, I gain by all this, and I may even say, I feel inclined to thank
your grandmother. You see I have never founded a family of my own; I
have always counted upon this family. Now my poor sister is dead, and if
your grandmother had opened her arms to you, I should have been of no
more use than an old cabbage stock. So you see----"

       *       *       *       *       *

Franco was careful not to let his wife know about this matter, and
although she was aware that the letters had been sent to Cressogno, she
did not ask if his grandmother had answered, until after the funeral,
until some hours after the funeral. The little drawing-room, the little
terrace, the little kitchen, had been full of people all day long, from
nine o'clock in the morning until nine in the evening. At ten Luisa and
Franco left the house without a lantern, turned to the right, went very
slowly and silently through the darkness of the village, and, passing
the bright and windy turning to which rises the deep roar of the river
of S. Mametti, stood among the shadows and the pungent odours of the
walnut-trees of Looch. Shortly before they reached the cemetery, Luisa
said softly to her husband: "Have you heard nothing from Cressogno?" He
would have liked to hide at least part of the truth from her, but he
could not. He said his note had been returned to him; and then Luisa
wanted to know if his grandmother had sent a word of condolence to
Uncle Piero. Franco's "no" was almost timid, and so uncertain that,
after they had gone on a few steps a suspicion flashed across Luisa's
mind, and she suddenly stopped, and seized her husband's arm. Before she
had uttered a word Franco understood and embraced her as he had embraced
Uncle Piero, only still more impetuously, telling her to take his heart,
his soul, his life, to seek for nothing else in this world. He felt she
was trembling violently in his arms, but neither then nor afterwards did
a word on this subject pass between them. At the gate of the cemetery
they knelt together. Franco prayed with the fervour of faith. Luisa,
with eager eyes, pierced the earth where it had been disturbed near the
entrance; pierced the coffin, and, in thought, fixed her gaze on her
mother's mild and serious face; once more, in thought, but with an
impulse so violent that the bars of the gate shook, she bent forward,
lower and lower, pressed her lips to the lips of the dead woman,
imprinting upon them a violence of affection, stronger than all the
insults, than all the baseness of this world.

Towards eleven o'clock she tore herself reluctantly away from the spot.
Going slowly down the slippery and stony path beside her husband there
suddenly arose before her mind's eye a vision of a future meeting with
the Marchesa. She stopped, drawing herself up and clenching her fists,
and from her handsome, intelligent face there shone forth such
fierceness that, could the old lady of marble have seen her thus, have
met her at that moment, she might not have surrendered, perhaps, but she
would certainly have hastened to put herself on the defensive.



Part Second



CHAPTER I

FISHERMEN


Dr. Francesco Zérboli, Imperial and Royal Commissary of Porlezza, landed
at the Imperial and Royal _Ricevitoria_--the custom-house--at Oria, on
the tenth day of September, 1854, just as a truly imperial and royal sun
was rising above the ponderous bastions of Galbiga, glorifying the
little pink custom-house and the oleanders and beans of Signora Peppina
Bianconi, and summoning to his office, in accordance with the
regulations, Signor Carlo Bianconi, her husband, that same Receiver of
Customs who had scented conspiracy in manuscript music. Bianconi, whom
his wife called _el mè Carlascia_,--"my big Charley"--and the people,
_el Biancon_, a tall man, fat and solid, with a clean-shaven chin, a
grey moustache, and the large dull eyes of a faithful mastiff, went down
to meet that other clean-shaven Imperial and Royal one, of higher rank.
There was no resemblance between the two, save in the Austrian nudity of
their chins. Zérboli, dressed in black and carefully gloved, was short
and stout, and wore a pair of fair moustaches flattened against his
sallow face, out of which peered two small, sarcastic, and scornful
sparks of eyes. His hair grew so low on his forehead that he was in the
habit of shaving off a strip, and at times a shade showed there, that
gave him the appearance of some strange beast. Quick in his movements,
in his glance, in his speech, he spoke, with easy courtesy, a nasal
Italian, having the modulations of the province of Trento. He now
informed the Receiver that he had come to hold a _convocato_--the
communal council of those days--at Castello, and that he had preferred
to come early and climb the hill while it was cool, from Oria rather
than from Casarico or Albogasio, that he might have the pleasure of
greeting the Receiver.

The big, faithful mastiff did not at once understand that the Commissary
had a second end in view, and poured forth his thanks in a medley of
obsequious phrases, and short, silly laughs, rubbing his hands and
offering coffee, milk, eggs, and the open air of the little garden. The
other accepted the coffee, but declined the open air with a motion of
his head and a wink so eloquent, that Carlascia, after shouting
upstairs, "Peppina!" ushered him into the office where, feeling himself
transformed (such was his double nature) from a receiver of customs into
a police-officer, he composed himself, and put on an expression of
austerity, as if about to enter into a sacramental union with the
monarch himself. This office was a miserable hole on the ground floor,
with iron gratings at the two small windows; an infectious and primitive
cell, that already stunk of the great empire. The Commissary seated
himself in the middle of the room, looking at the closed door that led
from the landing-stage to the ante-room, the one leading from the
ante-room to the office having been left open by his orders.

"Tell me something of Signor Maironi," said he.

"He is still watched," Bianconi answered, and continued in the Italian
of Porta Tosa. "By the way--wait a moment--I have a report here that is
nearly finished." And he began hunting and fumbling among his papers, in
search of the report and of his glasses.

"You will send it in, you will send it in!" exclaimed the Commissary,
who had a dread of the big mastiff's prose.

"Meanwhile speak. Tell me everything."

"He is as ill-intentioned as ever. We knew before he was
ill-intentioned, but now it is very evident," the eloquent Receiver
continued. "He has begun to wear that beard--you know--that midget--that
_moschetta_--that pointed tuft, that filthy----"[I]

"Pardon me," said the Commissary, "you see I am new to the place. I have
my instructions and I have received some information, but as yet I have
no exact knowledge of the man and his family. You must describe them to
me as minutely as you can. Let us begin with him."

"He is a proud man, violent and overbearing. He has quarrelled here at
least fifty times over questions of duty. He will never give in, and he
wants to teach me and the guard also. His eyes flash as if he were going
to eat the custom-house. But it is no use being overbearing with me,
even if he----For indeed he knows almost everything, and that is a fact!
He knows law, finance, music, flowers, fish, and the devil knows what
all else."

"And she?"

"She? Oh, she is a sly puss, but when she shows her claws they are worse
than his; much worse! When he is angry he turns red and makes a great
row, she turns pale and is devilish insolent. Of course I never tolerate
her insolence, but--well, you understand. She is a talented woman, I can
tell you. My Peppina is devoted to her. She is a woman who makes friends
everywhere. Here in Oria they often send for her instead of sending for
the doctor. If there is a quarrel in a family, they send for her. If an
animal has the stomach-ache, she must come. All the children run after
her, and she even makes little dolls for them at Carnival time. You
know, those little puppets. Moreover this woman can play on the spinet,
and knows French and German. I am so unfortunate as not to speak German,
so I have been to her several times to get German documents explained,
when such come to the office."

"Ah! So you go to the Maironis' house?"

"Yes, sometimes, for that purpose."

In truth the big mastiff also went there to get Franco to explain
certain enigmatical passages in the customs-tariff to him, but he did
not say so.

The Commissary continued his examination.

"And how is the house furnished?"

"Well, very well. Fine Venetian floorings, painted ceilings, sofas
heavily draped, a spinet, a splendid dining-room all hung with
portraits."

"And the Engineer-in-Chief?"

"The engineer is a jolly, old-fashioned, kind man; he resembles me,
though he is older. But he is not here much. He comes for two weeks
about this time of the year, and two weeks more in the Spring, and he
pays a few short visits in between. Just leave him alone, and let him
have his milk in the morning, his milk at night, his flask of Modena for
dinner, his game of _tarocchi_, and his _Milan Gazette_, and Engineer
Ribera is perfectly happy. But to return to Signor Maironi's beard.
There is something even worse! I discovered yesterday that the gentleman
has planted a jasmine in a wooden box painted red!"[J]

The Commissary, a man of parts, and probably in his secret heart,
indifferent to all colours save that of his own complexion and his own
tongue, could not refrain from slightly shrugging his shoulders.
Nevertheless, he presently asked--

"Is the plant in blossom?"

"I don't know. I will ask the woman."

"Ask whom? Your wife? So your wife goes to Casa Maironi also?"

"Yes, from time to time."

Zérboli fixed his two little scornful eyes on Bianconi's face, and put
the following question, enunciating every syllable very distinctly.

"Does she, or does she not, go there from good motives?"

"Well, as to that, it depends! She imagines she goes as a friend of
Luisina's, to talk about the flowers, their sewing, and for little bits
of gossip, and they chatter and chirp away as women will; you know the
way. But I get out of her----"

"_Tè chì, tè chì!_ Behold, behold!" Signora Peppina Bianconi exclaimed
in her Porta Ticinese dialect, as she came forward with the coffee,
smiling pleasantly. "The Commissary! What a pleasure it is to see you! I
am afraid the coffee isn't very good, but any way it is fresh made. It
is a great nuisance not being able to have it from Lugano!"

"Tut, tut, tut!" grumbled her husband crossly.

"Well, what harm is that? I only said so in fun. You understood, didn't
you, _Sür Commissari_? That blessed man there never understands
anything. I never get any coffee for myself, anyway. I am taking
mallow-water now for a dizzy head."

"Don't talk so much, don't talk so much!" her husband interpolated, and
the Commissary, setting down the empty cup, told the good woman that he
was coming to see her flowers presently, and this gallantry was like the
act of one who, at a café, throws the money upon the tray, that the
waiter may take it and be gone.

Signora Peppina understood, and awed by the ferocious eyes of her
Carlascia, withdrew in haste.

"Listen, listen, listen," the Commissary exclaimed, covering his brow
with his left hand, and pressing his temples. "Oh!" he ejaculated,
suddenly remembering, "I have it! I wanted to inquire if Engineer Ribera
is in Oria at present."

"He is not here now, but I believe he is coming very shortly."

"Does Engineer Ribera spend much money on this Maironi family?"

"He certainly must spend a great deal. I don't believe Don Franco has
more than three _svanziche_ a day of his own, and she----" The Receiver
blew across the palm of his hand. "So you see----! They keep a servant.
They have a little girl about two years old, and so they must needs keep
a maid to look after the child. They send away for flowers, books,
music, and all sorts of things. Of an evening they play cards, and there
is always a bottle of wine. It takes a good many _svanziche_ to live in
this way, you know."

The Commissary reflected a moment with a clouded brow, and eyes rolled
up to the ceiling, and then, in short, disjointed sentences that sounded
like fragments of an oracle, he let it be understood that Engineer
Ribera, an Imperial and Royal official, recently favoured by the
Imperial and Royal government with a promotion _in loco_, should exert a
better influence over his nephew's family. Then with further
questionings and further observations touching the engineer's present
weaknesses, he intimated to Bianconi that his paternal attention should
be directed with special secrecy and delicacy towards their Imperial and
Royal colleague, in order that--should this become necessary--they might
be able to enlighten their Superiors concerning certain acts of
tolerance which would be scandalous. He ended by inquiring if Bianconi
was aware that the lawyer V. from Varenna and another individual from
Loveno were in the habit of visiting the Maironis quite often. The
Receiver knew this, and had learned from his Peppina that they came to
make music. "I don't believe it," the Commissary announced, with sudden
and unusual asperity. "Your wife does not understand at all. If you go
on like this, my dear Bianconi, they will lead you by the nose. Those
two are a couple of rascals, who would be better off at Kufstein.[K] You
must seek for more information, and when you have obtained it, you will
pass it on to me. And now let us go into the garden. By the way, when
anything comes from Lugano for the Marchesa Maironi----" Zérboli
finished the sentence with a gesture of amiable munificence, and started
forward, followed by the deeply mortified mastiff.

Signora Peppina allowed them to find her in the garden watering the
flowers aided by a small boy. The Commissary looked, admired, and found
a means of giving the subaltern police-officer a little lesson. By
praising her flowers he easily led Signora Bianconi to mention Franco,
but, as if quite indifferent to that gentleman, he did not dwell a
moment upon him, but stuck to the flowers, declaring that Maironi could
not possibly have finer ones. Little cries, groans, and ejaculations
broke from the humble Signora Peppina, who was really embarrassed by
such a comparison. But the Commissary insisted. How? Even the Casa
Maironi fuchsias were finer? The heliotrope and the _pelargonia_ also?
How about the jasmine?

"The jasmine!" Signora Peppina exclaimed. "Why, Signor Maironi has the
finest jasmine in the whole Valsolda, my dear sir!"

Thus, in the most natural way possible, did the Commissary presently
discover that the famous jasmine had not yet blossomed. "I should like
to see Don Franco's dahlias," said he. The ingenuous creature offered to
accompany him to Casa Ribera that very day. "They will be so
delighted!" But the Commissary expressed his desire to wait the coming
of the Imperial and Royal Engineer-in-Chief, that he might have an
opportunity of greeting him, whereupon Signora Peppina said approvingly:
"That is right." Meanwhile the mastiff, humiliated by that superior
skill, and wishing to show in some way that, at least, he was zealous,
seized the boy with the watering-pot by the arm, and presented him:

"My nephew. Son of a sister of mine, married to an Imperial and Royal
doorkeeper, at the police station in Bergamo. He has the honour to bear
the names, _Francesco Giuseppe_--Francis Joseph--bestowed upon him by my
express desire. Of course, you see, it would not be respectful to use
these names ordinarily----"

"His mother calls him Ratì, and his father calls him Ratù, fancy that!"
Aunt Peppina put in.

"Be quiet!" said his uncle. "I call him Francesco. He is a well-behaved
boy, I must say; a very well-behaved boy. Now tell us, Francesco, what
are you going to do when you are a man?"

Ratì rattled off his answer as if he were reciting his catechism.

"When I am a man I shall always comport myself as behooves a faithful
and devoted subject of His Majesty our Emperor, and a good Christian;
and I hope, with the help of the Lord, to become some day, an Imperial
and Royal Receiver of Customs like my uncle, that I may, at last, enter
Paradise, and be duly rewarded for my virtuous actions."

"Well done, well done, well done!" said Zérboli, caressing Ratì. "Always
walk in the path of virtue."

"You be quiet, _Sür Commissari_," Peppina once more burst out. "This
morning the little villain ate half the sugar out of the sugar-basin!"

"What, what, what?" Carlascia exclaimed, forgetting his part in his
astonishment. He remembered himself at once however, and declared: "It
was your own fault. Things should be put away. Is not that true,
Francesco?"

"Perfectly," Ratì answered; and the Commissary vexed at this wrangle,
and at the twist his paternal admonition had received, took himself off
without ceremony.

Hardly had he disappeared when Carlascia scolded angrily: "You take the
sugar again if you dare, you!" and hit Francis Joseph a formidable knock
on the side of the head. This worthy had expected quite different
treatment, and ran off to hide among the beans. Then Bianconi had it out
with his wife, scolding her roundly, and swearing that in the future he
would look after the sugar himself; and upon her daring retort: "What
business is it of yours, after all?" he flung out: "Everything is my
business, everything is my business!" and turning his back upon her,
strode off, puffing and tingling, to the spot where his attentive wife
had prepared the fishing-rod and the _polenta_, and began to bait the
two great hooks he used in catching tench. In the olden days that little
world was even more completely isolated from the great world than at
present, and was, even more than at present, a world of silence and of
peace, in which the functionaries of both State and Church, and,
following their venerable example, many faithful subjects as well,
dedicated several hours a day to edifying contemplation. Seated first on
the West, the Receiver cast two hooks attached to a single line, two
tempting mouthfuls of _polenta_, as far out from the shore as possible;
when the line was stretched tight, when the float seemed firmly anchored
in quiet expectation, the Imperial and Royal personage placed the short
rod delicately upon the low wall, and sat down to contemplate. To the
east of him the _sedentario_, as the customs-guard was then called,
crouching on the humble landing-stage in front of another float, smoked
his pipe and contemplated. A few steps beyond old, half-starved Cüstant,
a retired white-washer, sacristan and churchwarden, one of the
patricians of the village of Oria, sat in contemplation, on the prow of
his boat, a lofty, prehistoric, tall hat on his head, the magic wand in
his hand, his legs dangling above the water, and his soul concentrated
on his own particular float. Seated on the edge of a small field, in the
shade of a mulberry-tree and a large, black, straw hat, the puny, thin,
be-spectacled Don Brazzova, parish-priest of Albogasio, was lost in
contemplation, his image reflected in the clear water. In a
kitchen-garden of Albogasio Inferiore, between the banks of the Ceron
and that of Mandroeugn, another patrician in a jacket and high boots,
the churchwarden Bignetta, called _el Signoron_, the _fine gentleman_,
sitting stiff and solemn, upon an eighteenth century chair, with the
famous rod in his hand, watched and contemplated. Under the fig-tree at
Cadate, Don Giuseppe Costabarbieri sat in contemplation. At S. Mamette
the doctor, the grocer, and the shoemaker were hanging over the water
and contemplating most diligently. At Cressogno the Marchesa's florid
cook was contemplating. Opposite Oria, on the shady deserted shore of
Bisgnago, a dignified arch-priest from lower Lombardy was in the habit
of leading a life of contemplation for forty days every year. All alone
he sat, with three rods resting at his feet, while with the air of a
bishop, he contemplated the three floats belonging to these rods--two
with his eyes, one with his nose. If some one, passing far out on the
lake could have seen all these brooding figures without perceiving the
rods, the lines, and the floats, he would have thought himself in a
country inhabited by hermits and ascetics, who, weary of the earth, were
contemplating the sky in this liquid mirror, simply for the sake of
greater convenience.

As a matter of fact, all these ascetics were fishing for tench, and no
mystery the future of humanity might contain could be of more
importance to them than those mysteries at which the little float
secretly hinted, when, as if possessed by a spirit, it showed signs of
growing unrest, and, at last, even of mental derangement; for, after
dipping and jerking, now forward, now backward, it would at last, in the
utter confusion of its ideas, choose the desperate course of plunging
head foremost into the depths. These phenomena, however, occurred only
at rare intervals, and some of the contemplators would pass whole
half-days without noticing the slightest movement in their floats. Then
each one, removing his eyes from the bit of cork, would follow a line of
thought running parallel with the line attached to the rod. Thus it
sometimes happened that the arch-priest would land an episcopal see, the
"fine gentleman," a wood that had once belonged to his ancestors, the
cook, a tench from the hills, rosy and fair, and Cüstant, an order from
government to whitewash the peak of Cressogno. As to Carlascia, his
second line was usually of a political nature, and the reason of this
will be more readily grasped if we reflect that the main line, the one
attached to the rod, often awoke in his big, dull head certain political
considerations which the Commissary Zérboli had suggested to him. "You
see, my dear Receiver," Zérboli had once said, when discoursing weakly
about the events which had taken place on the sixth of February in
Milan, "you who fish for tench, can easily understand this matter. Our
great monarchy is fishing with a line. The twin baits are Lombardy and
the Venetian provinces; two round and tempting morsels, with iron
inside. Our monarchy has cast them there at its feet, opposite the
lurking-place of that foolish little fish, Piedmont. In 1848 it grabbed
at the bait Lombardy, but eventually succeeded in spitting it out and
making off. Milan is our float. When Milan moves, it means that the
little fish is just beneath. Last year the float moved a wee bit, but
the dear little fish had only sniffed at the bait. But wait, some day
there will be a violent movement, and we shall give a jerk; there will
be some struggling, some floundering, but we shall land our little fish,
and never let it escape again, the little white, red, and green pig!"

Bianconi had laughed heartily at this, and often when he sat down to
fish, he would amuse himself by ruminating on this graceful simile, from
which would generally arise other subtle and profound political musings.
That morning the lake was quiet and most favourable to contemplation.
The tallest grass of the precipitous bottom could be seen standing
erect, a sign that there was no under-current. The baited hook cast far
out, sunk straight and slowly, the line stretched evenly and smoothly
below the float which sailed behind it a little way, surrounded by a
series of tiny rings, that told of the ticklings of small carp, and then
sunk into repose, a sign that the bait was resting on the bottom, and
that the carp no longer worried it. The fisherman placed the short rod
on the low wall, and fell to thinking of Engineer Ribera.

Though he was not aware of it Bianconi had a large dose of meekness in
one corner of his heart which God, without informing him of it, had made
with a false bottom. The world had proof of this in 1859, when the dear
little fish, having swallowed the bait Lombardy, with the hook, the
line, the rod, the Commissary, and everything else, Bianconi took to
planting national and constitutional cabbages at Precotto. In spite of
this hidden meekness, as he now laid down his rod and reflected that
poor, old Engineer Ribera was to be fished for, he experienced a
singular satisfaction, neither in his heart, nor his head, nor in any of
the usual senses, but in a particular sense of his own, purely Imperial
and Royal! Indeed he had no consciousness of himself as distinct from
the Austrian governing organism. Receiver at a small frontier
customs-house, he considered himself the point of the nail on a finger
of the state; then, as a police-agent, he considered himself a
microscopic eye under that nail. His life was that of the monarchy. If
the Russians tickled the skin of Galicia, he felt the itching at Oria.
The greatness, the power, the glory of Austria inflated him with
unbounded pride. He would not admit that Brazil was vaster than the
Austrian Empire, or that China was more thickly populated, or that the
Archangel Michael could take Peschiera, or the Almighty Himself take
Verona. His real Almighty was the Emperor; he respected the One in
Heaven as an ally of the one at Vienna.

So, although he had never suspected that Engineer Ribera was an
unfaithful subject, the Commissary's words--gospel truth to him--had
carried conviction with them, and the idea of getting hold of this
untrustworthy servant fired the zeal of the royal eye and the imperial
finger nail. He called himself an ass for not having seen through this
man before. Oh, but there was still time to catch him and hold him fast,
fast, fast! "You just leave it to me! Just leave it to me, Signor
Comm----"

He broke off suddenly and seized the rod. Gently, almost without moving,
the float had printed a ring on the water, the sign of a tench. Bianconi
clutched the rod tight, holding his breath. Another dip of the float,
another and larger ring; the float moved slowly, slowly upon the water,
and then stopped. Bianconi's heart was beating violently; the float
moved still a little further on the surface, and then went under; zag!
Bianconi gave a jerk, and the rod bowed with the tugging on the line of
a hidden fish. "Peppina, I've got him!" shouted Carlascia, losing his
head. "The _guadèll_, the _guadèll_!" The customs-guard turned round
enviously: "Have you got him, _Scior Recitòr_?" Cüstant, consumed with
envy, gave no sign, not even turning his tall hat. Ratì and Signora
Peppina came rushing up, the latter bringing the _guadèll_, a long pole
with a large net at the end of it, used for bagging the tench in the
water, for it would be a desperate risk to lift it up by the line.
Bianconi took the line and began drawing it in very slowly. The tench
was not yet visible, but must surely be enormous. The line came in
smoothly for a few feet, and then was jerked violently back; then it
began to come in again, nearer, ever nearer, until, far down below the
surface, underneath the very noses of the three personages, something
yellow flashed, a monstrous shadow! "Oh, the beauty!" said Signora
Peppina under her breath. Ratì exclaimed: "_Madone, Madone!_" But
Bianconi spoke never a word, and only pulled and pulled cautiously. It
was a fine, big fellow, short and fat, with a dark back and a yellow
belly, this fish that was coming up from the depths, nearly exhausted
and moving crosswise with evident reluctance.

The three faces did not please the fish, for it suddenly turned tail
upon them, and once more dived furiously towards the depths. At last,
however, completely exhausted, it followed the line, and appeared at the
foot of the wall, its gilded belly uppermost. Signora Peppina, almost
upside down on the parapet, plunged her rod as far as it would go,
seeking in vain to bag the unhappy fish. "By the head!" shouted her
husband. "By the tail!" piped Ratì. At the noise, at sight of that
terrible net, the fish struggled and dived. Peppina worked harder than
ever, but could find neither head nor tail. Bianconi pulled and the
tench rose to the surface once more, coiled itself up, and with a mighty
jerk, snapped the line, and shot off amid the foam. "_Madone!_"
exclaimed Ratì, while Peppina continued to hunt about in the water with
her rod. "Where is that fish? Where is that fish?" Bianconi, who had sat
as one petrified, still grasping the line, now faced about in a rage; he
kicked Ratì, caught his wife by the shoulder, and shook her like a bag
of nuts, loading her with reproaches. "Has it made off, _Scior
Recitòr_?" asked the customs-guard mellifluously. Cüstant turned his
tall hat just a little, glanced towards the scene of the disaster, and
then, returning to the contemplation of his own placid float, mumbled in
an indulgent tone: "_Minga pratich!_ Not skillful!"

Meanwhile the tench had returned to its native grass-grown depths,
melancholy but free, like Piedmont after Novara. It is, however,
doubtful if the poor Engineer-in-Chief will be equally fortunate.


FOOTNOTES:

[I] A short, pointed beard, called _la mosca_, and worn by patriots in
those days. [_Translator's note._]

[J] Box, red; leaves, green; flower, white. The Italian colours, so the
worthy Receiver scents sedition. [_Translator's note._]

[K] Kufstein was one of the Austrian fortresses where "politicals" were
imprisoned. [_Translator's note._]



CHAPTER II

THE MOONSHINE AND CLOUD SONATA


The sun was sinking behind the brow of Monte Brè and darkness was
rapidly covering the precipitous shores and the houses of Oria, stamping
the purple and gloomy profile of the hill on the luminous green of the
waves, which were running obliquely towards the west, still high, but
foamless in the tired _breva_. The lights in Casa Ribera had been the
last to go out. Standing against the steep vineyards of the mountainside
dotted with olives, it spanned the narrow road that follows the
coast-line, its modest façade rising from the clear water, and flanked
on the west, towards the village, by a little hanging-garden, divided
into two tiers, on the east, towards the church, by a small terrace
raised on pillars, which framed a square of church ground. In this
façade there was a small boathouse where at that time the boat belonging
to Franco and Luisa lay rocking on the jostling waves. Above the
boathouse a slender gallery united the hanging-garden on the west and
the terrace on the east, and looked out upon the lake by means of three
windows. They called it a loggia, perhaps because it really had been
one in olden times. The old house bore incrusted here and there several
of these venerable, fossil names, which had survived through tradition,
and represented, in their apparent absurdity, the mysteries of the
religion of domestic walls. Behind the loggia was a spacious hall, and
there were two rooms more behind that. On the west was the small
dining-room, its walls covered with little, illustrious, paper men, each
under his own glass and in his own frame, each in a dignified attitude,
like the illustrious in flesh and blood, looking as if his colleagues
did not exist at all, and the world was gazing at him alone. On the east
was the alcove-room, where next to her parents, in her own little bed,
slept Signorina Maria Maironi, born in August, 1852.

From the great rococo chests to the bed-rooms, the kitchen cupboard, the
black clock in the little dining-room, the sofa in the loggia, with its
brown cover, sprinkled with red and yellow Turks; from the
straw-bottomed chairs to the armchairs with disproportionately high
arms, the furniture of the house all belonged to the epoch of the
illustrious men, most of whom wore the wig and pigtail. Even though it
did appear to have just descended from the garret, it seemed,
nevertheless, to have regained in the light and air of its new
surroundings certain lost habits of cleanliness, a decided interest in
life, and the dignity of old age. Thus a collection of disused words
might to-day be composed by the breath of some aged and conservative
poet, and reflect his serene and graceful senility. Under the
mathematical and bureaucratic rule of Uncle Piero, chairs and armchairs,
tables large and small, had lived in perfect symmetry, and the privilege
of immobility had been extended to the very mats themselves. The only
piece of furniture which might have been called _movable_, was a grey
and blue cushion, an abortive mattress, which the engineer, during his
short visits at Oria, carried with him when he moved from one easy-chair
to another. When he was absent the caretaker respected all relics of him
to such an extent as never to dare touch them familiarly, or dust the
less visible parts. This caused the housekeeper to fly into a rage,
regularly, every time they returned to Valsolda. The master, vexed that
a little dust should cause so much scolding of a poor peasant, would
reprimand her, and suggest that she do the dusting herself; and when the
woman--by way of a scornful retort--would demand, wrathfully, if she was
to kill herself with dusting the house every time they came, he would
answer good-naturedly: "If you kill yourself once, that will be
sufficient."

The cultivation of the little garden as well as of a kitchen-garden he
owned to the east of the church grounds, he left entirely to the caprice
of the caretaker. Only once, two years before Luisa's marriage, arriving
at Oria at the beginning of September, and finding six stalks of maize
growing on the second terrace of the little garden, did he allow
himself to say to the man: "Look here, my friend. Couldn't you really
get along without those six stalks of Indian corn?"

Those liberal poets, Franco and Luisa, had breathed upon things and
changed their aspect. Franco's poetry was more ardent, fervid and
passionate; Luisa's more prudent. Thus Franco's sentiments always flamed
out in his eyes, his face, his words, while Luisa's seldom burst into
flames, and only tinged the depths of her penetrating glance, and her
soft voice. Franco was conservative only in matters of religion and art;
he was an ardent radical as far as the domestic walls were concerned,
always planning transformations of ceilings, walls, floors, and drapery.
Luisa began by admiring his genius, but as nearly all the funds came
from her uncle, and there was little margin for extraordinary
undertakings, she persuaded him, very gently and little by little, to
leave the walls, the ceilings, and the floors as they were, and to study
how best to arrange the furniture without seeking to transform it. And
she would make suggestions without appearing to do so, letting him
believe the ideas were his own, for Franco was jealous of the paternity
of ideas, while Luisa was quite indifferent to this sort of maternity.
Thus, together, they arranged the hall as a music-room, drawing-room,
and reading-room; the loggia as a card-room, while the terrace was
sacred to coffee and contemplation. This small terrace became in
Franco's hands the lyric poem of the house. It was very tiny and Luisa
felt that here a concession might be made, and an outlet provided for
her husband's enthusiasms. It was then that the king of Valsoldian
mulberry-trees fell from his throne, the famous and ancient mulberry of
the churchyard, a tyrant that deprived the terrace of the finest view.
Franco freed himself from this tyrant by pecuniary means; then he
designed and raised above the terrace an airy context of slim rods and
bars of iron which formed three arches surmounted by a tiny cupola, and
over this he trained two graceful passion-flower vines, that opened
their great blue eyes here and there, and fell on all sides in festoons
and garlands. A small round table and some iron chairs served for coffee
and contemplation. As to the little hanging-garden, Luisa would have
been willing to put up even with maize, with that tolerance of the
superior mind which loves to humour the ideas, the habits, the
affections of inferior minds. She felt a sort of respectful pity for the
horticultural ideals of the poor caretaker, for that mixture of
roughness and gentleness he had in his heart, a great heart, capable of
holding at once, reseda and pumpkins, balsam and carrots. But Franco,
generous and religious though he was, would not have tolerated a carrot
or a pumpkin in his garden for love of any neighbour. All stupid
vulgarity irritated him. When the unfortunate kitchen-gardener heard Don
Franco declare that the little garden was a filthy hole, that
everything must be torn up, everything thrown away, he was so dazed and
humiliated as to excite pity; but when, working under his master's
orders, tracing out paths, bordering them with tufa-stones, planting
flowers and shrubs, he saw how skilful Franco himself was with his
hands, and how many terrible Latin names he knew, and what a surprising
talent he possessed for imagining new and beautiful arrangements, he
conceived, little by little, an almost fearful admiration for him, which
soon--in spite of many scoldings--developed into devoted affection.

The little hanging garden was transformed in Franco's own image and
likeness. An _olea fragrans_ in one corner spoke of the power of gentle
things over the hot, impetuous spirit of the poet; a tiny cypress, not
over-acceptable to Luisa, spoke in another corner of his religiosity; a
low, brick parapet, in open-work pattern, ran between the cypress and
the _olea_, supporting two parallel rows of tufa-stones, between which
blossomed a smiling colony of verbenas, petunias, and wall-flowers, and
spoke of the singular ingenuity of its author; the many rose-bushes
scattered everywhere spoke of his love of classic beauty; the _ficus
repens_ which decked the walls towards the lake, the twin orange-trees
between the two tiers, and a vigorous carob-tree, revealed a chilly
temperament, a fancy turning always towards the south, insensible to the
fascination of the north.

Luisa had worked far harder than her husband, and still continued to do
so, but whereas he was proud of his labours and glad to speak of them,
Luisa, on the contrary, never mentioned hers, nor was she in the least
proud of them. She laboured with the needle, the crochet, the iron, the
scissors, with a wonderful, calm rapidity; working for her husband, her
child, the poor, herself, and for the adornment of her house. Each room
contained some creation of hers; dainty curtains, rugs, cushions, or
lamp-shades. It was also her duty to arrange the flowers in the hall and
the loggia; no flowers in pots, for Franco did not have many, and did
not wish them shut up in rooms; no flowers from the little garden, for
to gather one of those was like tearing it out of Franco's heart. But
the dahlias, the gladioles, the roses, and the asters of the
kitchen-garden were at Luisa's disposal. These, however, were not
sufficient, and as the village loved "Sciora Luisa" best after the
Almighty, St. Margherita, and St. Sebastian, at a sign from her, its
children would bring her wildflowers and ferns, and ivy to festoon
between the great bunches, stuck in metal rings on the walls. Even the
arms of the harp that hung from the ceiling of the hall, were always
entwined with long serpents of ivy and passion-flower.

If they wrote to Uncle Piero of these innovations he would answer little
or nothing. At most he would caution them not to keep the
kitchen-gardener too busy, but to leave him time for his own work. The
first time he came to Oria after the transformation of the little
garden he paused and contemplated it as he had contemplated the six
stocks of maize, and murmured under his breath: "Oh dear me!" He went
out to the terrace, looked at the little cupola, touched the iron bars,
and pronounced an "Enough!" that was resigned, but full of disapproval
of so much elegance, which he considered above the position of his
family and himself. But when he had examined in silence all the nosegays
and bunches of flowers, the pots and the festoons of the hall and the
loggia, he said, with his good-natured smile: "Look here, Luisa! Don't
you think it would be better to keep a couple of sheep with all this
fodder?"

But the housekeeper was delighted that she no longer need kill herself
for dust and cobwebs, and the kitchen-gardener was for ever praising the
wonderful works of "Signor Don Franco," so that Uncle Piero himself soon
began to grow accustomed to the new aspect his house had assumed, and to
look without disapproval upon the little cupola, which, indeed, afforded
a most grateful shade. At the end of two or three days he asked who had
made it, and he would sometimes pause to examine the flowers in the
garden, to inquire the name of one or another. At the end of eight or
ten days, standing with little Maria at the door leading from the hall
to the garden, he would ask her: "Who planted all those beautiful
flowers?" and teach her to answer: "Papa!" He exhibited his nephew's
creations to an employé of his who one day came to visit him, and
listened to his expressions of approval with a fine assumption of
indifference, but with the greatest satisfaction. "Yes, yes, he is
clever enough." Indeed he ended by becoming one of Franco's admirers,
and would even listen, in the course of conversation, to other projects
of his. And in Franco, admiration and gratitude were growing for that
great and generous bounty that had vanquished conservative nature, and
the old aversion for elegance of every description; for that same bounty
that at all such opposition rose silently and even higher behind the
uncle's resistance, until it surmounted all, covered all in a broad wave
of acquiescence, or at least with the sacramental phrase: "However,
_fate vobis_; do as you like." One innovation only Uncle Piero had not
been willing to accept--the disappearance of his old cushion. "Luisa,"
said he, gingerly lifting the new, embroidered cushion from the
easy-chair, "Luisa, take this away." And he would not be persuaded.
"Will you take it away?" When Luisa, smiling, brought him the little
abortive mattress he sat down upon it with a satisfied, "That's it!" as
if he were solemnly taking possession of a lost throne.

At the present moment, while the violet dusk was invading the green of
the waves and running along the coast from village to village,
eclipsing, one after another, the shining white houses, the engineer
was seated upon his throne holding little Maria on his knees, while out
on the terrace Franco was watering the pots of pelargonia, his heart and
his face as full of affectionate satisfaction as if he had been slaking
the thirst of Ishmael in the desert. Luisa was patiently untangling a
fishing-line belonging to her husband, a frightful snarl of string,
lead, silk, and hooks. She was talking, meanwhile, with Professor
Gilardoni, who always had some philosophical snarl to untangle, but who
greatly preferred a discussion with Franco, who always contradicted him,
right or wrong, believing him to possess an excellent heart, but a
confused head. Uncle Piero, his right knee resting on his left, held the
child on this elevation, and for the hundredth time at least, was
repeating a little scrap of verse to her, with affected slowness, and a
slight distortion of the foreign name--

    Proud shade of the river,
      Of Missipipì----

As far as the seventh word the child would listen, motionless and
serious, with earnest eyes; but when he reached "Missipipì," she would
burst out laughing, pound hard with her little legs, and clap her tiny
hands over the uncle's mouth, who would also laugh merrily, and after a
short pause he would begin again, speaking slowly, slowly, in the same
approved tone:

    Proud shade of the river----

The child did not resemble either father or mother; she had the eyes,
the delicate features of Grandmother Teresa. She exhibited a strange
impetuous tenderness for the old uncle, whom she so seldom saw. Uncle
Piero did not use sweet words to her; indeed, when necessary, he would
even chide her gently, but he always brought her toys, often took her
out to walk, danced her upon his knee, laughed with her, and repeated
comic verses to her--the one beginning with the "Missipipì," and that
other, ending with the words:

    Answered so promptly young Barucabà!

Who may this Barucabà have been, and what had they been asking him?
"_Toa Bà! Toa Bà!_ Barucabà again! Barucabà again!" and once more the
uncle would recite the poetic tale to the child, but there is no one now
to repeat it to me.

This is what Professor Gilardoni was discussing in his timid, gentle
voice with Luisa; the Professor, grown just a little older, just a
little more bald, just a little more sallow. "Who knows," Luisa had
said, "if Maria will resemble her grandmother in soul as she does in
face." The Professor replied that it would indeed be a miracle to find
two such souls in the same family, and separated by so short an interval
of time. Then wishing to explain to how rare a species he conceived the
grandmother's soul to have belonged, he gave voice to the following
tangle: "There are souls," said he, "that openly deny a future life, and
live according to their opinions, solely for the present life. Such are
few in number. Then there are souls that pretend to believe in a future
life, and live entirely for the present. These are far more numerous.
There are souls that do not think about the future life, but live so
that they may not run too great a risk of losing it if, after all, it
should be found to exist. These are more numerous still. Then there are
souls that really do believe in the future life, and divide their
thoughts and actions into two categories, which are generally at war
with each other; one is for heaven, the other for earth. There are very
many such. And then there are souls that live entirely for the future
life, in which they believe. These are very few, and Signora Teresa was
one of them."

Franco, who hated psychological disquisitions, passed frowning, with his
empty watering-pot, on his way to the little garden, and thought: "Then
there are those souls that are bores!" Uncle Piero who, by the way, was
slightly deaf, was laughing with Maria. When her husband had passed,
Luisa said softly: "Then there are souls that live as if there were only
the future life, in which they do not believe. And of such there is
one." The Professor started, and looked at her in silence. She was
hunting in the tangle of the line for a double thread with a ring that
must be drawn through, and though she did not see his glance, still she
felt it, and quickly nodded towards her uncle. Had she really been
thinking of him when speaking those words? Or had there been in her
some occult complication? Had she alluded to her uncle without
conviction, simply because she dare not name, even in thought, another
person to whom her words might more justly apply? The Professor's
silence, his searching glance which she had felt without meeting,
revealed to her that he suspected her. It was for that reason she had
hastily nodded towards Uncle Piero.

"Does he not believe in a future life?" the Professor asked.

"I should say not," Luisa answered, and then at once her heart was
filled with remorse, for she felt that her reasons for affirming this
were not sufficient, that she had no right to answer thus. In fact her
uncle had never taken the trouble to meditate on religion. In his
conception of honesty were included the continuation of the ancient,
family practices and the profession of the inherited faith, accepted
carelessly, as it stood. His was a good-natured God like himself, who,
again like himself, cared little for genuflections and rosaries; a God
well pleased to have honest, hearty men for His ministers, as Uncle
Piero was well pleased to have such for his friends, even though they
might be merry eaters and drinkers, life-long devotees of _tarocchi_,
open tellers of spicy but not filthy stories, as a lawful outlet for
that prurient hilarity which is in all of us. Certain joking remarks of
his, certain aphorisms uttered thoughtlessly upon the relative
importance of religious practices and the absolute importance of honest
living, had struck her, even as a child, especially as they greatly
vexed Signora Teresa, who would entreat her brother not to "talk
nonsense." She suspected that he went to church simply because it was
fitting to do so. Perhaps this was not true; one must overlook the
aphorisms of a man who had grown old in self-sacrifice and
self-abnegation, and who was wont to say: _Charitas incipit a me._
Besides, even if her uncle did hold religious practices in slight
esteem, there was a vast difference between that and denying a future
life. Indeed, as soon as Luisa had uttered her opinion and had heard how
it sounded, she felt it was false, saw more clearly within herself and
realised that she had been seeking in her uncle's example, a prop and a
comfort for herself.

The Professor was greatly moved by this unexpected revelation.

"This one soul," said he, "that lives as if thinking only of a future
life in which it does not believe, is indeed in error, but nevertheless,
we are bound to admire it as the most noble, the greatest of all. It is
something sublime!"

"But are you then sure that this soul is in error?"

"Oh, yes, yes!"

"And you yourself, to which category do you belong?"

The Professor really believed he was of the few who rule their actions
entirely according to an aspiration towards a future life, but he would
have been embarrassed had he been called upon to demonstrate that his
earnest study of Raspail, his zeal in the preparation of sedative water
and camphor cigarettes, his horror of dampness and of draughts, were
proofs of slight attachment to the present life. However, he would not
answer, but said that though he did not belong to any church, he
nevertheless, believed firmly in God and the future life, and that he
could not judge of his own conduct.

Meanwhile, Franco, watering the little garden, had discovered that a new
verbena had blossomed, and setting down his watering-pot, had come to
the door of the loggia and was calling to Maria, to whom he wished to
point it out. Maria let him call, and demanded "Missipipì" again,
whereupon the uncle put her down, and himself led her to her father.

"But, Professor," Luisa said, emerging by means of the living word from
a course of occult ponderings, "do you not think one may believe in God
and still be in doubt concerning the future life?"

Speaking thus she had dropped the tangled maze of net, and was looking
the Professor straight in the face, with an expression of lively
interest, and a manifest desire that he might answer yes. As Gilardoni
did not speak she added--

"It seems to me some one might say: What obligation is God under to
give us immortality? The immortality of the soul is an invention of
human selfishness, which, after all, simply wishes to make God serve its
own convenience. We want a reward for the good we do to others, and a
punishment for the evil others do to us. Let us rather resign ourselves
to complete death, which comes to every living thing, being just with
ourselves and with others as long as we live, without looking for future
reward, but simply because God wishes it, as he wishes every star to
give light, and every tree to give shade. What do you think about it?"

"What can I say?" Gilardoni answered. "It seems to me a thought of great
beauty! I cannot say: a great truth. Indeed I do not know. I have never
thought about it, but it is very beautiful! I will say that Christianity
has never had, has never even imagined a Saint so sublime as this _some
one_! It is very beautiful, very beautiful!"

"And besides," Luisa continued after a short silence, "it might also be
maintained that this future would not mean perfect happiness. Can there
be happiness if we do not know the reasons of all things? If we may not
explain all mysteries? And will this longing to know all things be
satisfied in the future life? Will there not always remain one
impenetrable mystery? Do they not teach us that we shall never
understand God perfectly? Therefore, in our longing to know, shall we
not end by suffering as at present, perhaps even more, because in a
higher life that longing must become stronger? I can only see one way of
arriving at a knowledge of everything, and that would be to become
God----"

"Ah! You are a pantheist!" the Professor exclaimed, interrupting her.

"Hush!" said Luisa. "No, no, no, I am a Catholic Christian. I am only
repeating what others might say."

"Pardon me, but there is a pantheism----"

"Philosophy still?" exclaimed Franco, coming in with the little one in
his arms.

"Oh, misery!" grumbled Uncle Piero behind him.

Maria held a beautiful white rose in her hand. "Look at this rose,
Luisa," said Franco. "Maria, give Mamma the flower. Look at the shape of
this rose, its pose, its shading, the veins in its petals; look at that
red stripe, and inhale its perfume. Now drop philosophy."

"You are an enemy of philosophy?" the Professor said, smiling.

"I am a friend of that simple and sure philosophy which even roses can
teach me," Franco answered.

"Philosophy, my dear Professor," Uncle Piero put in solemnly, "is all
contained in Aristotle. You can get all you want from that source."

"You are jesting," the Professor said, "but you yourself are a
philosopher."

The engineer placed a hand on his shoulder.

"Listen, dear friend! My philosophy could all be put into eight or ten
glasses."

"Mercy on us! Eight or ten glasses!" grumbled the housekeeper, who had
caught her most temperate master's words of boastful intemperance, as
she came in. "Eight or ten fiddlesticks!"

She had come to announce Don Giuseppe Costabarbieri, whose hollow but
jolly voice was just then heard in the hall, saying heartily, "_Deo
gratias_." Then the red and wrinkled face, the lively eyes, and the grey
hair of the gentle priest appeared.

"We are discussing philosophy, Don Giuseppe," said Luisa when greetings
had been exchanged. "Come here and let us have your valuable opinion."

Don Guiseppe scratched his head, and then turning it slightly towards
the engineer, with the expression of one who desires something for which
he hardly dares to ask, gave utterance to this flower of his
philosophical opinions.

"Wouldn't a little game of primero be better?"

Franco and Uncle Piero, who were only too glad to escape from
Gilardoni's philosophy, sat merrily down to the little table with the
priest.

As soon as he and Luisa were alone, the Professor said softly--

"The Marchesa left yesterday."

Luisa, who had taken Maria upon her lap, pressed her lips to the child's
neck passionately.

"Perhaps," continued Gilardoni, who had never known how to read in the
human heart, or to touch its chords correctly, "perhaps sometime--it is
only three years, yet--perhaps the day may come when she will yield."

Luisa raised her face from Maria's neck. "Perhaps _she_ may yield!" said
she. The Professor did not understand, and giving way to the evil genius
that invariably suggested to him the worst word at the worst moment, he
persisted instead of breaking off. "Perhaps, if she could see Maria!"
Luisa pressed the little girl to her breast, and looked at him so
fiercely that he was confused, and stammered, "I beg your pardon!"
Maria, in this close embrace, raised her eyes to her mother's strange
face, grew very red, pressed her lips tight together, cried two great
tears, and began to sob.

"No, no, dear!" Luisa murmured tenderly to her, "be quiet, be quiet! You
shall never see her, never!"

As soon as the child was comforted the Professor, distressed at the
mistake he had made, at having offended this Luisa, who seemed to him a
superhuman being, wished to explain, to justify himself, but Luisa would
not allow him to speak. "Pardon me, but that will do," said she, rising.
"Let us go and watch the game."

But, as a matter of fact, she did not go near the players. She sent
Maria to amuse herself in the church-grounds with her little nurse,
Veronica, and herself went to carry a piece of pudding to an old
villager who had a voracious appetite and a small voice, with which he
would every day promise his benefactress the same precious recompense,
"Before I die, I will give you a kiss."

Meanwhile the Professor was filled with scruples and remorse for the
unfortunate step he had taken. Not knowing whether to go or to remain,
whether the lady would or would not return, whether it would or would
not be indiscreet to go in search of her, after having looked out
towards the lake as if seeking advice from the fishes, towards the hills
to see if she or some one of whom he could inquire about her happened to
be at one of the windows, he finally went to watch the game.

Each one of the players kept his eyes fixed on the four cards he held in
his left hand, placed one upon the other in such a way that the second
and third projected above the others just enough to be recognisable,
while the fourth remained carefully hidden.

The Professor reflected that he also held a secret card, a trump, and he
was undecided whether to play it or not. He held old Maironi's will. A
few days after Signora Teresa's death, Franco had told him to destroy
it, and never breathe a word about it to Luisa. He had obeyed only so
far as keeping silence was concerned. The document still existed, though
of this Franco was ignorant, because its custodian had determined to
await the development of events, to see if Cressogno and Oria would come
to terms, or if, in consequence of prolonged hostilities, Franco and
his family would be reduced to want, in which case he himself intended
to do something. What he should do, he did not really know. He was
nurturing the germs of several foolish plans in his head, and trusted
that one or other of them would have ripened before the time for action
arrived. Now, as he watched Franco play, he wondered how that man, so
engrossed in his desire to win a pasteboard king, could ever have
refused that other precious card, not even wishing to inform his wife of
its existence. He attributed this silence to modesty, to a desire to
hide a generous action, and although he had suffered more than one sharp
rebuff from him, and felt that Franco esteemed him lightly, still he
looked upon him with a respect full of humble devotion.

"Give me the cards! Give me the cards!" the priest exclaimed, and he
shuffled them eagerly. Then the game, symbol of the universal struggle
between the blacks and the reds, began once more.

       *       *       *       *       *

The lake now lay sleeping, covered and encircled by shadows. Only on the
east the great, distant mountains of the Lario were still in a glory of
purple and rich, yellow gold. The first breath of the evening breeze out
of the north, moved the tender branches of the passion-flowers, ruffled,
in spots, the surface of the grey waters towards the upper lake, and
wafted a perfume of cool woods.

When Luisa returned the Professor had been gone some time.

"Ah, here is _Sciora_ Luisa!" said Don Giuseppe, who was feeling quite
satisfied, having had his fill of primero, and he gently stroked the
modest rotundity of his ribs and belly. Then this little personage of
the world of long ago remembered the second object of his visit. He had
wished to speak a little word to Signora Luisa. The engineer had gone
out to take his usual short walk as far as the Tavorell hill, which he
jokingly called the St. Bernard, and Franco, after a glance at the moon
which was just then sparkling above the black brow of the Bisgnago, and
below, in the undulations of the water, began improvising on the piano
outpourings of ideal sorrow, that floated out of the open windows upon
the deep sonorousness of the lake. His musical improvisations were more
successful than his elaborate poems because in music his impulsive
feelings found a mode of expression more facile, more complete, and the
scruples, the uncertainties, the doubts which rendered the labour of
language most wearisome and slow, did not torment his fancy at the
piano. There he would give himself up, body and soul, to the poetic
rage, and quivering to the roots of his hair, his clear, speaking eyes
reflecting every little shade in the musical expression, while his face
worked with the continuous movement of inarticulate words, his hands,
though neither very agile nor very supple, would make the piano sing
ineffably.

At the present moment he was passing from one tone to another, breathing
hard, and putting all the strength of his intellect into those passages,
eviscerating the instrument, as it were, with his ten fingers, and
almost with his glowing eyes as well. He had begun to play under the
spell of the moonshine, but as he played, sad clouds had arisen from the
depths of his heart. Conscious that as a youth he had dreamed of glory
and that later he had humbly laid aside all hope of attaining it, he
said, almost to himself, with his sad and passionate music, that in him
there was indeed some glow of genius, some of the fire of creation seen
only by God, for not even Luisa exhibited that esteem for his intellect
which he himself lacked, but which he could have wished to find in her;
not even Luisa, the heart of his heart. She praised his music and his
poetry in measured terms, but she had never said: "Follow this path,
dare, write, publish." He was thinking of this as he played on in the
dark hall putting into a tender melody the lament of his love, the
timid, secret lament he would never have dared to put into words.

Out on the terrace in the quivering light-and-shade formed by the breath
of the north wind and the passion-flower vines, by the moon and its
reflection in the lake, Don Giuseppe was telling Luisa that Signor
Giacomo Puttini was angry with him on account of Signora Pasotti, who
had repeated to him the false report that he, Don Giuseppe, was going
about preaching the necessity of a marriage between Puttini and
Marianna. "May I be struck dead," the poor priest protested, "if I ever
breathed a single word! Not a single word! It is all a lie!" Luisa would
not believe poor Barborin guilty, but Don Giuseppe declared he had it
straight from the Controller himself. Then she understood at once that
the cunning Pasotti was indulging in a joke at the expense of his wife,
Signor Giacomo, and the priest, and declining to interfere in the matter
as Don Giuseppe wished her to do, she advised him to speak to Signora
Pasotti herself. "She is so terribly deaf!" said the priest, scratching
his head; and he finally departed, dissatisfied, and without saluting
Franco, whom he did not wish to interrupt. Luisa went towards the piano
on tiptoe, and stopped to listen to her husband, to hear the beauty, the
richness, the fire of that soul which was hers, and to which she
belonged for ever. If she had never said to Franco, "Follow this path,
write, publish!" it was perhaps because in her well-balanced affection
she believed, and with reason, that he would never be able to produce
anything superior to mediocrity, but it was above all, because, although
she had a fine feeling for music and poetry, she did not really esteem
either of much account. She did not approve of a man's dedicating
himself wholly to either, and she had an ardent longing that her
husband's intellectual and material activity should flow in a more
manly channel. Nevertheless, she admired Franco in his music more than
if he had been a great master; she found in this almost secret
expression of his soul something virginal, something sincere, the light
of a loving spirit, most worthy to be loved.

He did not perceive her presence until two arms brushed his shoulders
and he saw two little hands hanging on his breast. "No! no! Play, play!"
Luisa murmured, for Franco had grasped the hands; but, without
answering, his head thrown back, he sought her, sought her lips and her
eyes, and she kissed him and then raised her face, repeating, "Play." He
drew the imprisoned wrists still farther down, silently praying for the
sweet, sweet mouth: then she surrendered, and pressed her lips upon his
in a long kiss, full of understanding, and infinitely more exquisite,
more exhilarating than the first. Then she once more whispered, "Play."

And in his happiness he played the music of triumph, full of joy and of
cries. For at that moment it seemed to him he possessed the soul of this
woman in its entirety, whereas sometimes, even though convinced that she
loved him, he seemed to feel in her that lofty reason, towering serene
and cold, above love itself, and far beyond the reach of his
enthusiasms. She would often place her hands upon his head, and from
time to time kiss his hair softly. She was aware of her husband's
doubts, and always protested that she was all his, but in her heart she
knew he was right. There was in her a tenacious, fierce sense of
intellectual independence which withstood love. She could judge her
husband calmly, recognising his imperfections, but she felt he was not
capable of doing the same, felt how humble he was in his love, in his
boundless devotion. She did not think she was unjust to him, she felt no
remorse, but she was touched with loving pity when she pondered these
things. Now she guessed the meaning of this joyous musical outpouring,
and, deeply moved, she embraced Franco and the piano became suddenly
silent.

       *       *       *       *       *

Uncle Piero's slow, heavy step was heard on the stairs; he was returning
from his St. Bernard.

It was eight o'clock, and the usual _tarocchi_-players, Signors Giacomo
and Pasotti, had not yet arrived, for in September Pasotti himself
became a regular visitor at Casa Ribera, where he pretended to be in
love with the engineer, with Luisa, and even with Franco. Franco and
Luisa suspected some duplicity, but Pasotti was an old friend of the
uncle's, and must be tolerated out of respect to him. As the players
failed to appear Franco proposed to his wife that they should go out in
the boat to enjoy the moon. First, however, they went to see Maria, who
was asleep in her little bed in the alcove, her head drooping towards
her right shoulder, one arm under her pillow, and the other resting
across her breast. They looked at her and kissed her smiling, and then
the silent thoughts of both flew to Grandmamma Teresa, who would have
loved her so dearly. With serious faces, they kissed her once more. "My
poor little one!" said Franco. "Poor, penniless, Donna Maria Maironi!"

Luisa placed her hand upon his mouth. "Be quiet!" said she. "We are
fortunate, we who are the penniless Maironis."

Franco understood, and did not answer at once, but presently, when they
were leaving the room to go to the boat, he said to his wife, forgetting
one of his grandmother's threats, "It will not always be thus."

This allusion to the old Marchesa's wealth displeased Luisa. "Do not
speak of it to me," she said. "I would not soil my fingers by touching
that money."

"I was thinking of Maria," Franco observed.

"Maria has us. We can work."

Franco was silent. Work! That was one of the words that chilled his
heart. He knew he was leading a life of indolence, for were not music,
books, flowers, and a few verses now and then, merely vanities and a
waste of time? And he was leading this life almost entirely at the
expense of others, for how could he possibly have managed with only his
one thousand Austrian lire a year? How could he have maintained his
family? He had taken his collegiate degree, but without deriving the
slightest profit from it. He doubted his own ability, felt himself too
much of an artist, too foreign to forensic wiles, and he was well aware
that the blood of earnest labourers did not flow in his veins. His only
hope was in a revolution, a war, in the freedom of his country. Ah! When
Italy should be free, how well he would serve her, with what great
strength, what joy! This poetry he had indeed in his heart, but he
lacked the energy, the constancy to prepare himself by study for such a
future.

While he was rowing away from the shore in silence, Luisa was wondering
how it was that her husband could pity the child because she was poor.
Did not this sentiment stand in contradiction to Franco's faith, to his
Christian piety? She recalled Professor Gilardoni's categories. Franco
believed firmly in a future life, but in practice he clung passionately
to all that is beautiful and good in this earthly life, clung to all its
lawful pleasures, including cards and dainty dinners. One who obeyed the
precepts of the Church so scrupulously, who was so careful to abstain
from flesh on Fridays and Saturdays, to listen to a sermon every Sunday,
should conform his daily life far more strictly to the evangelical
ideal. He should rather fear than desire riches.

"A pleasant sail to you!" Uncle Piero called out from the terrace,
catching sight of the boat and Luisa seated in the prow in the
moonlight. Opposite black Bisgnago all Valsolda, from Niscioree to
Caravina lay spread out in the glory of the moon; all the windows of
Oria and of Albogasio, the arches of Villa Pasotti, the tiny white
houses of the most distant villages, Castello, Casarico, S. Mamette,
Drano, seemed to be gazing as if hypnotised, at the great, motionless
eye of the dead orb in the heavens.

Franco drew the oars into the boat. "Sing," said he.

Luisa had never studied singing, but she possessed a sweet mezzo-soprano
voice and a perfect ear, and had learned many operatic airs from her
mother, who had heard Grisi, Pasta, and Malibran, during the golden days
of Italian opera.

She began the air from _Anne Boleyn_:

    Al dolce guidami
    Castel natio.

The song of the soul which at first descends, little by little, and
finally, in greater sweetness gives itself up to its love, to rise
again, locked in his embrace, in an impulse of desire towards some
distant light which shall complete its happiness. She sang, and Franco,
carried away, fancied that she longed to be united to him in that lofty
region of the soul from which she had, until now, excluded him; that in
this perfect union, she longed to be guided by him towards the goal of
his ideals. A sob rose in his throat, and the rippling lake, the great
tragic mountains, those eyes of things fixed upon the moon, the very
light of the moon itself, everything, was filled with his indefinable
sentiment. And so, when beyond the broken image of the orb, silver
lights flashed for a moment as far as Bisgnago, and even into the
shadowy gulf of the Doi, he was moved, as if they had been mysterious
signals concerning him, which lake and moon were exchanging, while Luisa
finished the verse:

    Ai verdi platani,
      Al cheto rio
    Che i nostri mormora
    Sospi ancor.

       *       *       *       *       *

Pasotti's voice called from the terrace--

"_Brava!_"

And Uncle Piero shouted--

"_Tarocco!_"

At the same moment they heard the oars of a boat coming from Porlezza,
and a bassoon mimicked the air of _Anne Boleyn_. Franco, who had seated
himself in the stern of his boat, started to his feet, crying
delightedly--

"Who goes there?" A fine, big, bass voice answered him--

    Buona sera
    Miei signori,
    Buona sera,
    Buona sera.

They were his friends from the Lake of Como, the lawyer V. of Varenna
and a certain Pedraglio of Loveno, who were in the habit of coming to
make music openly, and discuss politics in secret; this was known only
to Luisa.

They called from the terrace--

"Well done, Don Basilio!--Bravo, bassoon!" And in the interval the voice
could be heard of some one who was begging to be excused from _tarocco_:
"No, no, most gracious Controller, it is late! The time is too short;
really too short. Oh, Lord! Oh, Lord! Indeed you must excuse me. I
cannot, I cannot. Most worshipful Engineer, I appeal to you!"

But they made the little man play, promising that they would not go
beyond two games. He puffed very hard, and sat down to the little table
with the engineer, Pasotti, and Pedraglio. Franco seated himself at the
piano, and the lawyer placed himself beside him with the bassoon.

Between Pasotti and Pedraglio, two terrible quizzers, poor Signor
Giacomo passed a short half-hour which was full of tribulation. They did
not leave him alone a minute. "How goes it, _Scior Zacomo_?--Badly,
badly! _Scior Zacomo_, are there no friars walking about in
slippers?--Not one. And the bull, how is the bull, _Scior
Zacomo_?--Stop, stop--A most accursed beast, eh?--Yes, indeed, Sir. And
the servant, _Scior Zacomo_?" "Hush!" exclaimed Pasotti at this
impertinent question of Pedraglio's. "Be prudent. On this point Signor
Giacomo is having a great deal of trouble, through the indiscretion of
certain individuals." "Let us not discuss it, most gracious Controller,
let us not discuss it!" Signor Giacomo exclaimed, writhing all over, and
the engineer advised him to send his tormentors to the devil. "But how
is this, _Scior Zacomo_," Pasotti went on, undaunted, "don't you call
that little priest indiscreet?" "I call him an ass!" Signor Giacomo
answered angrily. Then Pasotti, smiling and triumphant, because this
joke was really of his own making, ordered Pedraglio to be quiet, and
started the game afresh, although Pedraglio was bursting with curiosity
to hear the story.

Franco and the lawyer were studying a new composition for piano and
bassoon, continually making mistakes and beginning over again. Presently
Signora Bianconi came in on tiptoe that she might not interrupt the
melody. No one noticed her entrance save Luisa, who made her sit down
beside her on the little sofa near the piano.

Signora Peppina with her cordial good-nature, her long tongue, and her
foolishness was irritating to Franco, but not to Luisa. Luisa liked her,
but she was careful on account of Carlascia. From her garden Peppina had
heard that "lovely song," and then the bassoon and the greetings; she
had imagined there was going to be music, and she was "so madly fond of
music, you know!" There was that lawyer who "blows into that shiny
thing," to say nothing of Don Franco with those fingers of his "that
seem bewitched." To hear the piano played with such precision was as
good as hearing a barrel-organ, and she was "so awfully fond" of
barrel-organs! She added that she had been afraid she should disturb
them, but that her husband had encouraged her to come. And she asked if
that other gentleman from Loveno did not play also; if they were going
to stay long; and observed that both must be passionately fond of music.

"I'll be even with you, you rascal of a Receiver," thought Luisa, and
she proceeded to stuff his wife with the most ridiculous tales of the
melomania of Pedraglio and the lawyer, inventing more and more as she
grew more and more angry with those odious persons against whom one was
obliged to defend one's self by lying. Signora Peppina swallowed all the
stories scrupulously down to the very last, accompanying them with
gentle notes of pleased wonder: "Oh, how strange!--Just fancy!--Just
think of that!" Then, instead of listening to the diabolical dispute
going on between the piano and the bassoon, she began to talk of the
Commissary, saying he intended to come and see Don Franco's flowers.

"He may come," said Luisa, coldly.

Then Signora Peppina, taking advantage of the storm Franco and his
friend were raising, risked a little private speech, which would have
cost her dear had her Carlascia overheard it, but fortunately that
faithful mastiff was asleep in his own bed, his night-cap drawn well
down over his ears.

"I am so devoted to these dear flowers!" she began. It was her opinion
the Maironis would do well to pet the Commissary a little. He was one
of the Marchesa's intimates, and it would be awful if he should take it
into his head to cause them trouble. He was a terrible man, this
Commissary! "Now my Carlo barks a little, but he is a good creature; the
other one doesn't bark, but--you understand?" She herself knew nothing
about it, had not heard anything, but if, for example, that lawyer and
the other gentleman had come for something else than music, and the
Commissary should find it out----! Then the Lord have mercy on us!

The moon was dragging its splendour across the lake towards the western
waters; the game had come to an end, and Signor Giacomo was preparing to
light his little lantern, in spite of Pasotti's remonstrances. "A light,
_Scior Zacomo_? You are mad! A light with such a moon!" "At your
service," Puttini replied. "In the first place there is that accursed
Pomodoro to cross, and then--_cossa vorla_--the moon nowadays! Besides I
must tell you it is the August moon, for although we are in September,
still the moon belongs to August. Well, once upon a time, my dear sirs,
August moons were fine and big, as large as the bottom of a cask at
least; now they are no better than moonlets, good-for-nothing
moons----no, no, no." And his lantern lighted, he departed with Pasotti,
the impertinent Pedraglio accompanying them as far as the gate of the
little garden, with his usual fire of antiphones about the bull and the
servant. Then the little man turned towards the cavernous streets of
Oria, greatly comforted by Pasotti's exclamations: "Ill-bred people,
_Scior Zacomo_! Vulgar people!" exclamations uttered in a tone
calculated to reach the others, and add to their amusement.

       *       *       *       *       *

A loud gape from the engineer put Signora Peppina to flight. A few
minutes later, having drunk his cup of milk, Uncle Piero took leave of
the company in verse--

    Tall laurel trees and myrtle sweet upon Parnassus grow,
    May night upon you, worthy Sirs, great happiness bestow.

The two guests also asked for a little milk, but Franco, who understood
their Latin, went for an old bottle of the wine from the small but
excellent vineyard of Mainé.

When he returned Uncle Piero was no longer present. The dark, bearded
lawyer, the picture of strength and placidity, raised both hands
silently, summoning Luisa and Franco, one to either side of him. Then he
said softly, in his voice like a violoncello, warm and deep--

"Great news!"

"Ah!" ejaculated Franco, opening his eager eyes wide. Luisa turned pale,
and clasped her hands in silence.

"Yes, indeed!" said Pedraglio calmly and seriously, "we have succeeded!"

"Speak out! Speak out!" Franco begged. The lawyer answered him:

"We have Piedmont allied with France and England! To-day war with
Russia, to-morrow with Austria! Are you satisfied?"

With a sob Franco sprang to embrace his friends.

The three stood clinging to one another in silence, pressing close in
the intoxication of the magic word: War! Franco forgot that he still
held the bottle. Luisa took it from him. Then he tore himself
impetuously from the other two, rushed between them, and seizing each
round the waist, dragged them into the hall like an avalanche,
repeating: "Tell all, tell all, tell all!"

There, when they had prudently closed the glass door leading to the
terrace, the lawyer and Pedraglio disclosed their precious secret. An
English lady, spending her holiday at Bellagio, who was a devoted friend
of Italy, had received a letter (of which the lawyer possessed a
translation) from another lady, a cousin of Sir James Hudson, English
Minister at Turin. The letter stated that secret negotiations were being
carried on in Turin, Paris, and London, to obtain the armed co-operation
of Piedmont in the Orient; that the matter was looked upon as settled by
the three cabinets, but that there still remained a few formal
difficulties to arrange, as Count Cavour demanded the greatest
consideration for the dignity of his country. At Turin they were
confident the official and open invitation from the Western powers to
accede to the treaty of the tenth of April, 1851, would come to hand not
later than December. It was even affirmed that the troops forming the
contingent would be under the command of the Duke of Genoa.

The lawyer read, and Franco held his wife's hand tight. Then he wanted
to read the letter himself, and after him Luisa read. "But," said she,
"war with Austria? How is that?"

"Most certainly," said the lawyer. "Do you suppose Cavour is going to
send the Duke of Genoa with fifteen or twenty thousand men to fight the
Turks unless he already holds the war with Austria in his hand? You may
believe me, Madam, it will come about before a year is passed."

Franco shook his fists in the air, his whole body quivering.

"Hurrah for Cavour!" whispered Luisa.

"Ah!" the lawyer exclaimed, "Demosthenes himself could not have praised
Cavour with greater efficacy."

Franco's eyes were filling with tears. "I am a fool!" he said. "I don't
know what to say!"

Pedraglio asked Luisa where the deuce she had hidden the bottle. Luisa
smiled and went out, returning again immediately with the wine and
glasses.

"Count Cavour!" said Pedraglio in a low tone. All raised their glasses
repeating: "Count Cavour!" Then they drank, even Luisa, who never took
wine.

Pedraglio refilled the glasses and again rose to his feet.

"War!" said he.

The three others sprang up, clutching their glasses in silence, too
deeply moved to speak.

"We must all go!" said Pedraglio.

"All!" Franco repeated. Luisa kissed him impetuously on the shoulder.
Her husband seized her head in both hands, and imprinted a kiss upon her
hair.

One of the windows towards the lake was open. In the silence that
followed the kiss, they heard the measured dip of oars.

"The customs-guards," whispered Franco. While the guards' long-boat was
passing beneath the window, Pedraglio said: "D---- hogs!" in such a loud
tone, that the others hushed him. The long-boat floated past. Franco
looked out of the window.

It was cool; the moon was sinking towards the hills of Carona, streaking
the lake with long, gilded stripes. What a strange sensation it gave him
to contemplate that quiet solitude, with a great war so near at hand!
The dark, sad mountains seemed to be thinking of the formidable future.
Franco closed the window, and the conversation began again in low tones
round the little table. Each one had his own suppositions concerning
future events, and all spoke of these events as of a drama, of which the
manuscript was lying quite ready, down to the very last verse, with all
its stops and commas in place, in Count Cavour's writing-desk. V., who
was a Bonapartist, saw clearly that Napoleon intended to avenge his
uncle, overthrowing one after another, the parties to the Holy Alliance;
to-day Russia, to-morrow Austria. But Franco, on the other hand, who was
mistrustful of the emperor, attributed the Sardinian alliance to the
good-will of England, but acknowledged that as soon as this alliance
would be proclaimed, Austria, sacrificing her own interests to
principles and hatred, would cast in her lot with Russia, and therefore
Napoleon would be obliged to fight her. "Listen," said his wife, "I am
afraid Austria will come over to the side of Piedmont," "Impossible!"
said the lawyer. Franco felt alarmed, and admired the acuteness of the
observation, but Pedraglio exclaimed: "Nonsense! Those blockheads are
too great asses to think out a trick like that!" This argument appeared
decisive, and no one save Luisa gave the possibility another thought.
They began discussing plans for the campaign, plans for insurrections,
but here they could not agree. V. knew the men and the mountains of the
Lake of Como from Colico to Como and Lecco, better perhaps than any one
else. And everywhere all along the lake, in Val Menaggio, in Vall
'Intelvi, in Valsassina, in the Tre Pievi, he knew those who were
devoted to the cause, and even ready to strike the blow at a sign from
the _Scior Avocât_. He and Franco considered any insurrectional movement
useful that might serve to distract part of the Austrian forces even for
a moment. But Luisa and Pedraglio were of opinion that all the
able-bodied men should hasten to swell the Piedmontese battalions. "We
women will make the revolution," said Luisa, with her mock gravity. "I,
for my part, will pitch Carlascia into the lake!"

They still conversed in an undertone, with an electric current in their
veins that flashed from their eyes, and made their nerves tingle;
enjoying this hushed talk behind closed doors and windows, the danger of
being in possession of that letter, the glowing life they felt in their
blood, and those intoxicating words they were always repeating:
Piedmont, War, Cavour, Duke of Genoa, Victor Emmanuel, Cannon,
_Bersaglieri_.

"Do you know what time it is?" said Pedraglio, consulting his watch. "It
is half-past twelve! Let us go to bed."

Luisa went for the candles, and lighted them, standing the while, but no
one moved, so she also sat down again. When he saw the candles lighted,
even Pedraglio himself lost his desire to go to bed.

"A fine kingdom!" said he.

"Piedmont," said Franco, "Lombardy-Venice, Parma, and Modena."

"And the Legations!"[L] V. added.

More discussions followed. All wished for the

Legations, especially the lawyer and Luisa, but Franco and Pedraglio
were afraid to touch them, fearing to stir up difficulties. They grew so
warm that Pedraglio entreated his companions to "scream" in an
undertone. "Scream softly, children!" Then it was V.'s turn to propose
going to bed. He took his candle in his hand but did not rise.

"Body of Bacchus!" said he, not knowing whether he meant it as a
conclusion or an exhortation. Indeed he had a terrible desire to talk,
and to hear others talk, but could find nothing new to say. "Body of
Bacchus it is indeed!" Franco exclaimed, who was in much the same state
of mind. A long silence ensued. At last Pedraglio said, "Well?" and
rose. "Shall we go?" said Luisa, leading the way. "And the name?" the
lawyer asked. They all stopped. "What name?" "The name of the new
Kingdom!" Franco set down his candle at once. "Well done!" said he, "the
name!" as if it had been a point that must be settled before going to
bed. Fresh discussions followed. Piedmont? _Cisalpino?_ Upper Italy?
Italy?

Luisa also was quick to put down her candle, and as the others were not
willing to accept his "Italy," Pedraglio set his down also. But finding
the debate promised to be a long one, he resumed it, and ran away,
repeating: "Italy, Italy, Italy, Italy!" heedless of the "hushes" and
admonitions of the others, who were following on tiptoe. They all
stopped once more at the foot of the stairs that Pedraglio and the
lawyer must ascend to reach their room, and exchanged good-nights. Luisa
entered the neighbouring alcove-room; Franco waited to watch his friends
upstairs. "Look here!" he suddenly exclaimed. He had been going to speak
to them from the foot of the stairs, but finally decided it was better
to go up to them. "And what if we are defeated?" he whispered.

The lawyer simply uttered a contemptuous "Nonsense!" but Pedraglio
turning like a hyena, seized Franco by the throat. They struggled gaily
there on the landing, and then once more said good-night. Pedraglio
rushed upwards, while Franco flung himself downstairs.

His wife was waiting for him, standing in the centre of the room, her
eyes fixed on the door. When she saw him enter she moved gravely towards
him, and folded him in a close embrace. When, after a few moments had
elapsed, he moved as though to draw away, she silently pressed him
closer. Then Franco understood. She was embracing him now as she had
kissed him before, when they had talked of all going to the war. He
pressed her temples between his hands, kissed her again and again on the
hair, saying gently: "Dearest, think how great she will be afterwards,
this Italy!" "Yes, yes!" said she. She raised her face to his, and
offered him her lips. She was not crying, but her eyes were moist. To
feel himself gazed upon like this, to be kissed thus, was indeed worth a
few years of life, for never, never before had her tenderness towards
him contained this humility.

"Then," said she, "we shall no longer live in Valsolda. You will be
obliged to assume the duties of a citizen, will you not?"

"Yes, yes, certainly!"

They began to talk eagerly, both he and she, about what they should do
after the war, as if to banish the thought of a terrible possibility.
Luisa let down her hair, and went to look at Maria in her little bed.
The child had probably been roused some time before, and had put a tiny
finger in her mouth, which, little by little, as sleep returned, had
slipped out. Now she was sleeping with her mouth open, and the little
finger resting on her chin. "Come here, Franco," said her mother. Both
bent over the bed. Maria's small face held the sweetness of paradise.

Husband and wife lingered over her in silence, and then rose, deeply
moved. The interrupted conversation was not resumed.

When they were in bed and the light put out, Luisa murmured, on her
husband's lips--

"If that day should come, you will go; but I shall go also."

And she would not allow him to answer.


FOOTNOTE:

[L] The Legations were provinces of the Roman state, governed by a
legate from Rome. The Marches, Romagna and Umbria. [_Translator's
note._]



CHAPTER III

THE GLOVED HAND


To make his joke more complete Pasotti reproached his wife for having
repeated to Signor Giacomo Don Giuseppe's speech concerning the
necessity of a marriage. The poor deaf woman was thunderstruck; she knew
nothing either of a speech or of a marriage, and protested that this was
a calumny, entreating her husband not to believe it, and was nearly
beside herself because the Controller still appeared to harbour a
suspicion. This malicious man was preparing a treat for himself; he was
going to tell Signor Giacomo and Don Giuseppe that his wife wished to
make amends for the harm she had done, and bring about a truce; in this
way he would get all three together at his house, and from behind a door
would enjoy the delicious scene that must ensue between the wrathful
Signor Giacomo, the terrified Don Giuseppe, and the deaf and distracted
Barborin. But his plan failed, for his wife could not wait, and ran off
to the "Palace" to clear herself.

She found Don Giuseppe and Maria in a state of the most extraordinary
agitation. Something tremendous had happened to them, something that
Maria wished to tell, and Don Giuseppe did not. However, the master
yielded on condition that she should not shout, but should convey her
news by signs. Meeting with opposition on this point also, he, in his
prudence, became furious, and the servant did not insist.

A rumour had spread of a case of cholera at Lugano, the victim being a
man who had come there from Milan, where the disease had broken out; so
Don Giuseppe had arranged to have all provisions for the kitchen come
from Porlezza instead of Lugano, and had entrusted the commission to
Giacomo Panighet, the postman, who brought the letters to Valsolda, not
three times a day, as at present, but twice a week, as was the
comfortable custom in the little world of long ago. Now, not five
minutes before Signora Pasotti's arrival, Giacomo Panighet had brought
the usual basket, and in the bottom of that basket, beneath the
cabbages, they had discovered a note addressed to Don Giuseppe. It ran
as follows:--


     "You, who play at primero with Don Franco Maironi, should warn
     him that the air of Lugano is far better than the air of Oria.

    "TIVANO."



Maria silently exhibited the basket, which was still full, to Signora
Pasotti, and by clever acting illustrated the manner of discovery of the
letter, which she gave her to read.

As soon as the deaf woman had finished reading, a strange, indescribable
pantomime began between the three. Maria and Don Giuseppe, by dint of
gesticulations and rollings of their eyes, expressed their surprise and
terror; Barborin, half frightened, half dazed, stared open-mouthed, from
one to the other, the letter still in her hand, as if she had
understood. As a matter of fact she had made out only that the letter
must be terrible. Presently a thought struck her. She held the letter
out to Don Giuseppe with her left hand, while with her right forefinger
she pointed to the word _Franco_; then she crossed her wrists with a
questioning gesture; and as the others, recognising that the sign meant
handcuffs, nodded their heads violently in confirmation, she became half
frenzied, so great was her affection for Luisa, and forgetting the
matter that had brought her there, she explained by signs, as if both
the others had been deaf also, that she would go straight to Oria, see
Don Franco, and give him the letter.

She started to rush away, cramming the letter into her pocket, and with
hardly a word of leave-taking to Don Giuseppe and Maria, who, greatly
distressed, were trying in vain to get hold of her, to detain her and
recommend all possible precautions. But she slipped through their
fingers, and her great, tall bonnet quivering, her old grey skirt
dragging, set off at a trot towards Oria, where she arrived quite out of
breath, with her head full of gendarmes, inspections, scenes of terror
and of grief.

       *       *       *       *       *

She went up the stairs of the little Ribera garden, making straight for
the hall, where she saw there were visitors. She recognised the Receiver
and the Imperial and Royal Commissary of Porlezza, and was terrified,
believing they were come for the terrible blow, but then she perceived
Signora Bianconi and Signor Giacomo Puttini, and once more breathed
freely.

The Commissary, seated in the post of honour on the large sofa, next to
the Engineer-in-Chief, talked a great deal, with much fluency and
brilliancy, looking oftenest at Franco, as if he were the only person
present upon whom it was worth while to waste breath and wit. Franco,
lounging in an armchair, was mute and sullen, like one who, in the house
of another, perceives a bad odour which good manners forbade him either
to flee from or curse. They were discussing the Crimean campaign, and
the Commissary was praising the plan of the allied powers to attack the
colossus in that vital point, his ambition. He spoke of the Russian
barbarities, and of the autocrat himself in such terms as to cause
Franco to tremble in his dread of an Anglo-Franco-Austrian alliance, and
Carlascia to open his eyes wide, for he still held the views of 1848,
and looked upon the Czar as a good friend of the family. "And you,
Signor First-Political-Deputy, what do you think of it?" said the
Commissary, turning his sarcastic smile upon Signor Giacomo. Puttini
winked his little eyes very hard, and having felt his knees all over,
replied: "Most respected Signor Commissary, I know little about Russia,
France, or England, and I care still less. I let them settle their own
affairs. But, to speak the truth, I am sorry for that poor dog
'Papuzza.' He was as quiet as a young chicken until they worried him,
then when he called for help, fifty rushed to his aid, and now they are
all upon him, devouring everything they can grab; and whether poor
'Papuzza' win or lose, he will have nothing left but his shirt."

This nickname "Papuzza,"--a Venetian distortion of _Babbuccia_
slippers--Signor Giacomo applied to the Turk. "Papuzza" personified
Turkey in the form of one ideal Turk, with a huge turban, a long beard,
a big belly, and slippers. Puttini, the peaceful, half free-thinker, had
a weakness for the lazy, placid, easy-going "Papuzza."

"Don't worry," the Commissary laughed. "Your friend 'Papuzza' will come
out all right. We are his friends also, and will not allow him to be
mutilated or bled."

Franco, frowning sternly, could not refrain from grumbling.

"Nevertheless, that would be a great injustice towards Russia."

The Commissary was silent, and Signora Peppina, displaying unusual tact,
proposed going out to see the flowers.

"A good idea!" said the engineer, who was very glad to have the
discussion interrupted.

While passing from the hall to the little garden the Commissary took
Franco's arm familiarly, and whispered in his ear: "You are right, you
know, about the injustice; but there are certain things we government
officials may not say." Franco, who was greatly astonished at this
utterance, felt as if the touch of the Imperial and Royal hand were
burning him. If this man had had a more Italian face he would have
believed him, but with that Kalmuc countenance he did not believe him,
and allowed the subject to drop. But his companion resumed it in a low
tone, as he leaned over the parapet above the lake, and pretended to
examine the _ficus repens_ that covered the wall.

"You yourself should avoid certain expressions," said he. "There are
fools who might place false interpretations upon them." And he gave a
slight nod in the direction of the Receiver. "Be careful, be careful!"
"Thank you," Franco replied, dryly, "but I hardly think I shall need to
be careful." "We can never be sure, never be sure, never be sure!" the
Commissary murmured, and, followed by Franco, he moved away towards the
spot where the Receiver and the engineer were discussing the subject of
tench, near the few steps leading down to the second terrace of the
little garden.

Close at hand stood the famous red box with the jasmine.

"That red does not look well, Signor Maironi," said the mastiff, _ex
abrupto_, and he threw up his hand with a gesture that meant, "Away with
it!" Just then Luisa looked into the garden from the hall, and called
her husband. The Commissary turned to his zealous acolyte, and said
sharply, "Drop that!"

Signora Pasotti was leaving, and wished to salute Franco. He would have
shown her out through the garden, but she, anxious to avoid going
through so many ceremonies with those other gentlemen, preferred to go
down by the inside stairs, and Franco escorted her as far as the
street-door, which stood open. To his great surprise Signora Pasotti,
instead of passing out, closed the door, and began an excited and
perfectly unintelligible pantomime, accompanying it with short sighs and
rollings of the eyes; after this she took a letter from her pocket and
offered it to him.

Franco read, shrugged his shoulders, and put the letter in his pocket.
Then as Signora Pasotti kept on recommending flight, flight--Lugano,
Lugano, in despairing pantomime, he smiled and reassured her by a
gesture. She once more seized his hands, and once more the lofty bonnet
(which had a tipsy inclination towards the right), and the long black
curls, trembled in earnest supplication. She strained her eyes wide,
pushed out her lips as far as possible, and laid her forefinger against
her nose to indicate silence. "With Pasotti also!" she said; and these
were the only words she spoke during the whole interview. Then she
trotted away.

Franco went upstairs again, thinking about his position. This might be a
false alarm, just as it might also be a serious matter. But why should
they arrest him? He tried to remember if he had anything of a
compromising nature in the house, and could recall nothing. It flashed
across his mind that his grandmother might have been guilty of some
perfidy, but he at once banished the thought, reproaching himself, and
postponed a decision until he should have spoken to his wife.

He returned to the little garden, where the Commissary, as soon as he
caught sight of him, asked him to point out the dahlias Signora Peppina
had been praising. Upon learning that they were in the kitchen-garden he
proposed going there with Franco. They could go alone, for indeed all
the others were ignorant on the subject of dahlias. Franco accepted.

The conduct of this little police-spy in gloves puzzled him, and he
sought to discover if it could in any way be connected with the
mysterious warning.

"Listen, Signor Maironi," the Commissary began resolutely, when Franco
had closed the gate of the kitchen-garden behind him. "I wish to say a
word to you."

Franco who was descending the few steps leading from the threshold of
the gate, stopped with a clouded brow. "Come here," the Commissary added
imperiously. "What I am about to do is perhaps not in accordance with my
duty, but I shall do it, notwithstanding. I am too good a friend of the
Marchesa, your grandmother, not to do it. You are in great danger."

"I?" Franco inquired, coldly. "In danger of what?"

Franco was endowed with a rapid and sure intuition of the thoughts of
others. The Commissary's words agreed perfectly with the message
Barborin had brought; still, at that moment he felt that the little
police-spy harboured treachery in his heart.

"In danger of what? Of Mantua!" was Zérboli's reply.

Franco did not flinch upon hearing the awful word, synonym of
incarceration and the gibbet.

"I need not fear Mantua," said he. "I have done nothing to deserve
Mantua."

"Nevertheless----!"

"Of what am I accused?" Franco repeated.

"You will soon find out if you remain here," the Commissary replied,
laying stress upon the last words. "And now let us examine these
dahlias."

"I have done nothing!" Franco once more repeated. "I will not leave."

"Let us see these dahlias, let us see these dahlias," the Commissary
insisted.

Franco felt that he should thank this man, but he could not. He showed
him his flowers with just that amount of civility that was
indispensable, and with perfect composure. Then he conducted him from
the kitchen-garden to the house, talking of some obscure Professor
Maspero, and of his secret method of combating _oidium_.

In the hall they were discussing another and far worse form of _oidium_.
Signora Peppina was harassed by a terrible fear of cholera. She
recognised that cholera served as a warning to every good Christian to
make his peace with God, and that when we are at peace with God, it is
indeed a blessing to be called to the next world, "but still, this body
of ours, you know! This precious body! And when you reflect that we have
only one!"

"The cholera," said Luisa, "might do no end of good, if it had any
sense, but it has not. You see," she whispered to Signora Peppina as
Bianconi rose and went towards the Commissary, who had returned with
Franco, "the cholera is quite capable of taking you, and leaving your
husband." At this extraordinary remark the terrified Peppina started
violently, exclaiming: "_Jesusmaria!_" and then, perceiving she had
betrayed her true feelings, that she had not exhibited that tenderness
for Carlascia of which she was always prating, she clutched her
neighbour's knee, and bending forward, said in an undertone, her face as
red as a poppy: "Be quiet, be quiet, be quiet!"

But Luisa was no longer thinking of her. A glance from Franco had warned
her that something had happened.

       *       *       *       *       *

When all the visitors had departed, Uncle Piero sat down to read the
_Milan Gazette_, and Luisa said to her husband: "It is three o'clock.
Let us go and wake Maria."

When he and she were alone in the alcove-room, instead of at once
opening the shutters, she inquired what had happened. Franco told her
everything, from Signora Pasotti's letter to the Commissary's strange
communication.

Luisa listened with a serious face, but without exhibiting any sign of
fear. Then she examined the mysterious note. Both she and Franco were
aware that among the government agents at Porlezza there was one honest
man, who, in 1849 and 1850 had saved several patriots by a timely
warning. But they were also aware that this honest man was ignorant of
the rules of orthography and grammar, and the note Barborin had brought
was perfectly correct. As to the Commissary, it was well known that he
was one of the most malicious and treacherous of the government's tools.
Luisa approved of the answer her husband had made him.

Franco himself was well aware of all this, but he could find no
plausible explanation for this persecution. Luisa, however, had one in
mind which contempt for the grandmother had suggested to her. This
Commissary was a good friend of the grandmother's, he himself had said
so, thereby displaying, so he thought, the refinement of cunning. In the
Commissary's glove there was the talon of the Marchesa. She meant to
strike not Franco alone, but all the others as well, and they were to be
reached through him who maintained the family with the fruit of his
labours, out of the kindness of his generous heart. She knew from
speeches which had been repeated to her by the usual hateful gossips,
that the grandmother hated Uncle Piero because Uncle Piero had made it
possible for her grandson to rebel against her, and to live comfortably
enough in rebellion. Now they were seeking for a pretext to strike him.
The flight of the nephew would be a confession, and, for a government
like the Austrian, a good pretext to strike the uncle. Luisa did not say
so at once, but she let him see that she had an idea, and little by
little, her husband drew it from her. When she had told him, though in
his heart he believed she was right, he nevertheless protested in words,
defending his grandmother against an accusation which seemed too
monstrous, and which rested on so slight a foundation. At all events
husband and wife agreed perfectly in their resolve not to flee, but to
await further developments. They therefore wasted no time in making or
discussing suppositions. Luisa rose and went to open the shutters, and
standing in the full light, she turned to look smilingly at her husband,
stretching out her hand to him. He pressed it and shook it, his heart
aflame, but his tongue speechless. They felt like soldiers, who,
conscious of the distant roar of cannon, are being led along a quiet
road, towards what fate God only knows.



CHAPTER IV

THE HAND WITHIN THE GLOVE


The Engineer-in-Chief noticed nothing, and two days later, the term of
his leave having expired, he went away peacefully in his boat, wrapped
in his great, grey travelling cloak, and accompanied by Cia, the
housekeeper. Ten days passed without further developments, and Franco
and Luisa concluded that a trap had been set for them, and that, after
all, the police would not appear. On the evening of the first of October
they played _tarocchi_ merrily with Puttini and Pasotti, and then, their
guests having left early, they went to bed. When Luisa kissed the child,
who was sleeping, she noticed that her flesh was hot. She felt of her
hands and legs. "Maria is feverish," she said.

Franco took up the candle and looked at her. Maria was sleeping with her
little head drooping towards her left shoulder as usual. The lovely
little face which always wore a frown when she was asleep, was slightly
flushed, and the breathing rather quick. Franco was alarmed, and at once
thought of scarlet fever, the measles, gastric, and brain fever. Luisa,
who was more calm, thought of worms, and prepared a dose of santonine,
which she placed ready on the pedestal. Then both father and mother went
noiselessly to bed, put out the light and lay listening anxiously to the
little one's short, quick breathing. At last they dozed, but towards
midnight they were aroused by Maria, who was crying. They lighted the
candle and Maria became quiet and took the santonine. Then presently she
began to cry again, and wanted to be taken into the big bed, between
mamma and papa, and finally went to sleep there; but her sleep was
uneasy and often interrupted by sobs.

Franco kept the candle burning that he might watch her more closely. He
and his wife were bending over their darling when two knocks sounded in
quick succession on the street-door. Franco started up in bed. "Did you
hear?" said he. "Hush!" said Luisa, grasping his arm, and listening. Two
more knocks sounded, louder still, and Franco exclaimed: "The Police!"
and sprang to the floor. "Go, go!" Luisa begged in a low tone. "Don't
let them take you! Go by the little courtyard! Climb over the wall!" He
did not answer, but hastily threw on some clothes and rushed from the
room, heedless of danger, and determined never of his own free will to
leave his Luisa and his sick child.

He dashed down the stairs. "Who is there?" he inquired, without opening
the door. "The Police!" some one answered. "Open at once."

"At this hour I open to no one I do not see."

A short dialogue ensued in the street. The voice he had heard first
said: "You speak to him," and the voice that spoke next was very
familiar to Franco.

"Open, Signor Maironi."

It was the Receiver. Franco threw the door open. A gentleman, dressed in
black and wearing spectacles, entered, and was followed by the mastiff;
after the mastiff came a gendarme with a lantern, then three other armed
gendarmes, two of whom were subalterns while the other was of higher
rank, and carried a large leathern bag. Some one remained outside.

"Are you Signor Maironi?" said the man in spectacles, a police-adjunct,
or detective from Milan. "Come upstairs with me." And the whole party
started upstairs, with the thud of heavy steps and the rattling of
military trappings.

They had not yet reached the first floor when a light fell on the stairs
from above, and sobs and groans were heard on the second floor.

"Is that your wife?" asked the detective.

"Do you fancy it is?" Franco retorted ironically. The Receiver murmured:
"It is probably the servant." The detective turned and gave an order;
two gendarmes started forward and went rapidly up to the second floor.
More sharply than before the adjunct asked Franco: "Is your wife in
bed?"

"Of course."

"Where? She must get up."

The door of the alcove-room was thrown open, and Luisa appeared in her
dressing-gown, with flowing hair, and bearing a candle in her hand. At
the same moment a gendarme leaned over the banisters on the upper floor,
and said that the servant had nearly fainted away, and could not come
down. The detective ordered him to leave his companion with the woman,
and to descend. Then he saluted the lady, who did not reply. In the hope
that Franco had fled, she had hastened to leave the room in order to
detain and, if possible, deceive the police. She now saw her husband and
shuddered, her heart beating wildly, but she composed herself at once.

The detective stepped forward to enter the room. "No!" Franco exclaimed.
"Some one is ill in there." Luisa clutched the handle of the closed
door, looking the man straight in the face.

"Who is ill?" asked the detective.

"A little girl."

"Well, what harm do you suppose we shall do her?"

"Pardon me," said Luisa almost defiantly, and giving the handle a
nervous shake, "must you all go in?"

"All of us."

At the sound of voices and the rattling of the door-handle little Maria
had begun to cry in a weary and forlorn voice that was heart-rending.

"Luisa," said Franco, "let these _gentlemen_ do their work."

The detective was a fashionably-dressed young man, with a refined but
cruel face. He threw Franco a sinister glance. "Obey your husband,
Signora," said he, glad of an opportunity to retaliate. "I think he is
prudent."

"Less prudent than you are, who bring a whole army as escort," Luisa
retorted, opening the door. He glanced at her, shrugged his shoulders,
and passed in, followed by the others.

"Open everything here," said he roughly, in a loud voice, pointing to
the writing-desk. Franco's big, blue eyes flashed. "Speak softly!" said
he. "Do not frighten my child."

"Silence, you!" the detective thundered, bringing his fist down upon the
desk. "Open!"

At that noise the child began to sob violently. Franco, who was furious,
flung the key upon the desk.

"Open it yourself," said he.

"You are under arrest!" cried the detective.

"Very well."

While Franco was answering thus, Luisa, who had bent low over her baby,
trying to pacify her, raised her face impetuously.

"I also have a right to that honour," said she, in her fine, ringing
voice.

The detective did not deign to reply, but ordered a gendarme to open all
the drawers of the writing-desk, and he himself searched them, removing
all the letters, examining them rapidly, throwing some on the floor,
and tossing others into the great leathern bag. After the writing-desk
it was the turn of the chests of drawers, where everything was turned
upside down. Then Maria's little bed was inspected. The detective
ordered Luisa to remove the child from the big bed, which he also
intended to examine.

"Then put the little bed in order for me," Luisa replied, quivering with
rage. Up to this moment, the mastiff, Carlascia, had stood silent and
stiff behind his moustaches, as if this operation, which he had perhaps
desired in the abstract, were proving not entirely to his taste, now
that it was being put into practice. He came forward and began arranging
the mattresses and sheets of the little bed with his great ugly paws.
Luisa placed the child in it, and then the large bed was torn to pieces
and examined, but without any result. Maria had stopped crying, and was
staring at the scene of confusion with wide eyes.

"Now follow me, both of you," said the adjunct. Luisa, who believed she
was to be led away with her husband, demanded that the servant be
summoned, that she might give the child into her care. At the idea that
Luisa was under arrest, that the sick child was to be deprived of her
mother also, Franco, beside himself with rage and grief, uttered a
protesting cry--

"This is not possible! Say it is not so!"

The detective did not vouchsafe a reply, but ordered that the servant
be brought in. The maid, half dead with fright, entered between two
gendarmes, groaning and sobbing.

"Fool!" Franco muttered between his teeth.

"The woman will stay here with the child," said the adjunct. "Both of
you will come with me. You must be present when the rest of the house is
searched." He sent for some lights, left a gendarme in the alcove-room,
and went into the hall, followed by the other gendarmes, Bianconi,
Franco, and Luisa.

"Before continuing the search," said he, "I will ask you a question I
should have asked before had your conduct been more correct. Tell me
whether you have any weapons, or seditious publications, or papers
either printed or in manuscript, which are hostile to the Imperial and
Royal Government."

Franco answered, in a loud tone--

"No."

"That is what we shall see," said the detective.

"Do as you like."

While the adjunct was causing furniture to be moved away from the wall,
and was searching and peering everywhere, Luisa remembered that eight or
ten years before her uncle had shown her in the chest of drawers of a
room on the second floor, an old sabre that had lain there ever since
1812. It had belonged to another Pietro Ribera, a lieutenant of cavalry,
who had fallen at Malojaroslavetz. No one ever slept in that room above
the kitchen and it was seldom entered; it was as if it did not exist.
Luisa had completely forgotten the old sabre of the Empire. Oh, God! now
she recalled it! What if her uncle had forgotten it also? What if he had
not given it up in 1848, after the war, when orders had been issued to
deliver up all weapons, under pain of death? Had her uncle grasped the
fact, in his patriarchal simplicity, that this heir-loom that had lain
for six-and-thirty years at the bottom of a drawer, had now become a
dangerous and forbidden object? And Franco, Franco who knew nothing!
Luisa was resting her hands on the back of a chair; it creaked sharply
under her convulsive pressure. She withdrew her hands, frightened, as if
the chair had spoken.

In fancy she saw the adjunct pass from room to room with his gendarmes,
and arrive at that door, open the drawer, and discover the sabre. She
made every effort to recall the exact position in which she had seen it,
to find some way out of this danger; and she was silent, mechanically
following with her eyes the candle which a gendarme, in obedience to his
chief's gestures, held close, now to an open drawer or cupboard, now to
a picture which the detective had lifted, that he might look behind it.
No, she could think of no remedy. If her uncle had failed to remove the
sabre, she could only trust they would not visit that room.

Franco, leaning against the stove, was following every motion of the
searchers with a clouded brow. When they plunged their hands into the
drawers, his rage was visible in the silent working of his jaws. Nothing
was heard save, now and then, a sharp order from the detective, and a
low-toned reply from the gendarmes. Nothing moved around them, save
their great shadows wavering on the walls. The silence of the Receiver,
of Franco and Luisa, was like the silence of those who have risked great
sums in a secret gaming-house, and stand about the players who, from
time to time, speak some brief word. The sinister face and voice of the
detective never changed, although he had not discovered anything. To
Luisa he seemed a man sure of achieving his purpose. And not to be able
to do anything, not even warn Franco! But perhaps it was better he did
not know; perhaps his ignorance would save him.

Having searched the hall and the loggia the detective entered the salon.
He took the candle from the gendarme's hands and swiftly examined the
little, illustrious men.

Seeing the portraits of Gouvion Saint-Cyr, Marmont, and other generals
of Napoleon, he said: "The Engineer-in-Chief Ribera would have done far
better to hang the portrait of His Excellency Field-Marshal Radetzky on
his walls. Is it here?"

"No," said Franco.

"A nice government official!" said the other contemptuously, and with
indescribable arrogance.

"Are government officials bound," Franco burst forth, "to hang the
portraits----"

"I am not here to argue with you," the detective said, interrupting him.

Franco was about to answer. "Be quiet, you with your tongue a yard
long!" said the Receiver, brutally.

The detective passed from the drawing-room into the corridor leading to
the stairs. Would he go up or not, Luisa wondered. He went up, and she
followed him, not trembling, but imagining with a dizzy rapidity, the
many different things that might happen. All the possibilities of the
moment, both disastrous and favourable, were whirling, as it were, in
her head. If she lingered upon the first, horror carried her with a
bound to the second; if she dwelt upon these, fancy returned with
perverse eagerness to the first.

Before they had set foot in the corridor of the second floor they heard
Maria crying. Franco begged the adjunct to allow his wife to go down to
the child, but she protested that she wished to remain. The idea of not
being with him when the weapon was discovered, terrified her. Meanwhile
the detective had entered a small room where there were some books, and
finding a volume printed at Capolago, and bearing the title, Literary
Writings of a Living Italian, he said: "Who is this living Italian?"
"Padre Cesari," Franco replied boldly. The other, deceived by his
prompt answer and the priestly name, assumed the air of a man of
culture, saying: "Ah! I am acquainted with his works." Replacing the
book, he inquired where the Engineer-in-Chief slept.

Luisa was too completely dominated by the one great dread to sense
anything else, but Franco, when he saw the police-agent and his band
enter the uncle's room, which was so clean, so neat, so full of his
dear, calm spirit, when he reflected what a blow to the poor old man the
news of all this would be, was completely overcome, and could have wept
with rage. "It seems to me," he said, "that this one room at least
should be respected."

"Keep your observations to yourself," the adjunct retorted, and began by
ordering the blankets and mattresses stripped from the bed. Then he
demanded the key to the chest of drawers. Franco had it, and went down
to his room for it, accompanied by a gendarme. The uncle had entrusted
it to him before leaving, telling him that in case of need he would find
a small amount of _cum quibus_ in the top drawer. They opened it. It
contained a roll of _svanziche_, a few letters and papers, some
pocket-books, old note-books, compasses, pencils, and a small wooden
bowl in which were several coins.

The detective examined everything carefully, discovering among the coins
in the little bowl a five-franc piece of the time of Carlo Alberto, and
a forty-franc piece of the Provisory Government of Lombardy. "The
Engineer-in-Chief has preserved these coins with extraordinary care,"
said the detective; "henceforth we will preserve them." He closed the
drawer, and, without opening the others, returned the key to Franco.

Then he went out into the corridor and paused, undecided. The Receiver
thought he intended to go down, and as the corridor was nearly dark, and
the stairs were not visible, he, who was acquainted with the house,
started towards the right in the direction of the stairs, saying: "This
way." The room where the sabre lay was on the left.

"Wait," said the adjunct. "Let us look in here, also." And turning, he
pushed open the fatal door. Luisa, who had been the last in the
procession, pressed forward, now that the supreme moment had arrived.
Her heart, which had beat furiously while the adjunct hesitated, now
became quiet as by a miracle, and she was cool, daring, and ready.

"Who sleeps here?" the detective asked her.

"No one. My uncle's parents used to occupy this room, but they have been
dead these forty years, and no one has slept here since."

The room contained two beds, a sofa, and a chest of drawers. This the
detective signed to the gendarmes to open. They tried it, but it was
locked. "I think I have the key," said Luisa with the utmost
indifference. She went down, accompanied by a gendarme, and returned
immediately with a little basket of keys which she offered to the
detective.

"I do not know the key," she said. "It is never used. It must be one of
these."

He tried them all, but in vain. Then the Receiver tried, and then
Franco. The right one was not there.

"Send to S. Mamette for the lock-smith," said Luisa, calmly. The
Receiver looked at the detective as if to say: "It seems to me
unnecessary," but the detective turned his back upon him and exclaimed
to Luisa: "This key must be somewhere!"

The chest of drawers, a piece of _rococo_ furniture, had metal handles
to each drawer. One of the gendarmes, the strongest, tried to force the
drawers open. He did not succeed either with the top one or with the
second. Just at that moment Luisa remembered that she had seen the sabre
in the third drawer, together with a roll of drawings. The gendarme
seized the handles of the third. "This one is not locked," said he. In
fact it opened easily. The detective took the light and bent over to
examine it.

Franco had seated himself on the sofa, his eyes fixed on the rafters of
the ceiling. When his wife saw the drawer pulled open she sank down
beside him, took his hand, and pressed it spasmodically.

She heard some papers rustle, and the Receiver murmured, in a benign
voice: "Drawings." Then the detective exclaimed: "Ah!" and the
satellites all leaned forward to see. She had the strength to rise and
inquire; "What is it?" The detective was holding a long pasteboard case,
curved and slim, and bearing a label with an inscription. He had already
read the inscription to himself; he now read it aloud with an accent of
ineffable sarcasm and satisfaction. "The sabre of Lieutenant Pietro
Ribera, killed at Malojaroslavetz in 1812." Franco started to his feet,
astounded and incredulous, and at the same moment the adjunct opened the
case. From where he stood Franco could not see it, and he glanced at his
wife, who could. Her lips were white and he thought it was with fright,
although this did not seem possible.

But her lips were white with joy, for the case contained only an empty
scabbard. Luisa suddenly drew back into the shadow and sank upon the
sofa, struggling with a violent inward trembling, vexed with herself and
ashamed of her weakness, which however, she soon conquered. Meanwhile
the detective, who had removed the scabbard and examined it on all
sides, asked Franco where the sabre was. Franco was about to answer that
he did not know, which was perfectly true, but reflecting that this
might seem like self-justification, he said--

"In Russia."

The sabre was not in Russia, but fast in the mud, at the bottom of the
lake, where Uncle Piero had secretly flung it rather than give it up.

"But why did they write sabre?" inquired the Receiver, wishing to show
he also was zealous.

"The writer is dead," said Franco.

"Hand over that key at once!" the detective scolded angrily. And this
time Luisa found it, and the two other drawers were opened. One was
empty, the other contained some blankets and a little lavender.

The search ended here. The adjunct went down to the drawing-room, and
ordered Franco to make ready to follow him in fifteen minutes. "You had
better arrest all of us then!" Luisa exclaimed.

The man shrugged his shoulders, and repeated to Franco: "In fifteen
minutes. You may go to your room, now, if you wish to." Franco dragged
Luisa away entreating her to be silent, to resign herself for love of
Maria. He seemed like another man, exhibiting neither grief nor anger,
and there was in his voice a ring of serious sweetness, of manly calm.

He put some linen into a bag, together with a volume of Dante and an
_Almanach du Jardinier_, which were on the table, bent over Maria for a
moment but did not kiss her, for she had gone to sleep, and he feared to
wake her. He kissed Luisa, however, but as they were being observed by
the gendarmes stationed at either door of the room, he quickly freed
himself from her embrace, saying, in French, that they must not provide
a spectacle for those gentlemen. Then he took up his bag, and went to
place himself at the detective's orders.

The police-adjunct had a boat waiting not fifty paces from Casa Ribera,
towards Albogasio, at the landing called _del Canevaa_. Upon issuing
from the portico spanned by his house, Franco heard a shutter being
thrown open above his head, and saw the light from his bedroom flash
against the white façade of the church. He turned towards the window,
saying--

"Send for the doctor to-morrow morning. Good-bye."

Luisa did not answer.

When the gendarmes reached the Canevaa with their prisoner, the adjunct
ordered them to stop.

"Signor Maironi," said he, "you have had your lesson. This time you may
return to your home, and I advise you to learn to respect the
Authorities."

Amazement, joy, and indignation welled up in Franco's heart. He
controlled himself, however, biting his lips, and started homewards at a
leisurely pace. He had not yet turned the corner of the church when
Luisa recognised his step, and called, "Franco!"

He sprang forward, and she saw him. Then her shadow vanished from the
window. He rushed into the house, flung himself up the stairs, crying,
"Free! Free!" while his wife came flying down, exclaiming wildly, "How!
How! How!" They sought each other with eager arms, clung together,
pressing close, without further speech.

But afterwards, in the loggia, they talked incessantly for two hours, of
all they had heard, seen, and experienced, always coming back to the
sabre, the papers, the coins, dwelling upon many trifling details, on
the detective's Venetian accent, on the dark-haired gendarme, who seemed
a good fellow, and the fair-haired gendarme, who must be a regular cur.
From time to time they would cease speaking, enjoying in silence their
sense of security, the sweetness of home, but presently they would begin
again. Before going to bed they stepped out on the terrace. The night
was dark and warm, the lake motionless. The sultriness, the gloom, the
vague and monstrous shapes of the mountains, seemed to their imagination
heavy with the mortal weight of Austria. The very air itself seemed full
of it. Neither Franco nor Luisa was sleepy, but they must go to bed on
account of the servant who was watching with Maria. They entered the
room on tiptoe. The child was sleeping, her breathing almost normal.

They also tried to sleep, but could not. They could not refrain from
talking, especially Franco. He would ask softly: "Are you asleep?" and
upon her answering, "No," the coins, the papers, the sabre, or the bully
with his Venetian accent would be discussed once more. By this time
there was nothing new to be said on these subjects, and, as Maria began
to be restless, and to show signs of waking, towards dawn, Luisa
answered, "Yes," the next time Franco inquired softly, "Are you asleep?"
and after that he kept quiet, as if he really believed it.

       *       *       *       *       *

The day after the search at Casa Ribera, Oria, Albogasio, and S. Mamette
were full of whisperings. "Have you heard?--Oh, dear Lord!--Have you
heard?--Oh, holy Madonna!" But the loudest whisperings were of course
those that communicated the news to Barborin Pasotti. Her husband
shouted into her face: "Maironi! Police! Gendarmes! Arrest!" The poor
woman concluded an army had swept her friends away, and began to
puff--"oh! oh!"--like an engine. Then she groaned and wept, and
questioned Pasotti about the child. Pasotti, who was determined not to
allow her to go down to Oria and exhibit her affection for the Maironis
under these circumstances, replied with a gesture like the sweep of a
broom. Gone! Gone! She also!--But the servant? The servant must surely
be there still. The crafty man made another sweeping gesture in the air,
and then Barborin grasped the fact that His Imperial and Royal Austrian
Majesty had had the servant carried off as well.

But the most malicious whisperings were uttered at a great distance from
Valsolda, in a room in the Maironi Palace, at Brescia. Ten days after
the search the Chevalier Greisberg di S. Giustina, a cousin of the
Maironis, who had been attached to the government of Field-Marshal
Radetzky in Verona until 1853, and had then accompanied his master to
Milan, alighted at the door of Casa Maironi from the carriage of the
Imperial and Royal Delegate of Brescia, whose guest he had been for some
days. The Chevalier, a handsome man of about forty, perfumed, and
smartly dressed, did not look particularly happy as he stood very erect
in the centre of the reception room, examining the ancient stucco-work
of the ceiling, and waiting for the Marchesa, who was of the same
period. Nevertheless, when the door opposite him, pushed open by a
servant's hand, admitted Madam's big person, marble countenance, and
black wig, the Chevalier was at once transformed, and kissed the old
lady's wrinkled hand with fervour. A Lombard gentlewoman devoted to
Austria was a rare animal, and extremely precious to the Imperial and
Royal government. Every loyal functionary owed her the most obsequious
gallantry. The Marchesa received the homage of her cousin the Chevalier
with her usual unruffled dignity, and having invited him to be seated,
enquired after his family and thanked him for his call, all in the same
guttural and sleepy tone. Finally, slightly out of breath from the
fatigue of uttering so many words, she crossed her hands over her
stomach, and let it be seen that she was now waiting for what her cousin
might have to say.

She expected he would speak about Engineer Ribera and the search. She
had on previous occasions expressed to him her displeasure that Franco
should be under the influence of his wife and Ribera, and her surprise
that the government should retain in its service one who in 1848 had
openly played the Liberal, and whose family--especially that artful
young woman--professed the most impudent Liberalism. The Chevalier
Greisberg had assured her that her wise observations should be given due
consideration. Then the Marchesa had instigated the Commissary Zérboli
against the poor Engineer-in-Chief, and it had been through Zérboli that
she had heard of the search. Therefore, when Greisberg appeared she
concluded he had come to speak of that. Now, she was quite willing to
make the government serve her own private rancour, but, as a matter of
principle, she never recognised a debt of gratitude toward any one. By
thus subjecting a doubtful functionary to examination, the Austrian
government had been working in its own interests. She had not asked for
anything; it was not for her to ask, it was for the Chevalier to speak
first. But the Chevalier, cunning, sly, and proud, did not understand
his rôle in this way. The old woman wanted a favour, and in order to
obtain it she must bow down and kiss the beneficent claws of government.

He remained silent for some time, to collect his thoughts, and in the
hope that the other would yield. Seeing that she remained mute and
unbending, he himself became suddenly smiling and gracious, told her
that he had come from Verona, and proposed that she guess what route he
had taken. He had passed through such a sweet town, had seen such a
charming villa, so splendid, a real paradise! The Marchesa was not good
at guessing; she asked if he had been in Brianza. No, he had not come
from Verona to Brescia by way of Brianza. He once more described the
villa, and this time so minutely that the Marchesa could not help
recognising her own estate of Monzambano. Then the Chevalier proposed
that she guess why he had gone to see the villa. She guessed at once,
guessed the whole plot of the comedy that was being acted for her
benefit, but her dull face said nothing of this. The Delegate had once
before sounded her to ascertain if she would be willing to let the villa
to His Excellency the Marshal, but she--having been secretly threatened
with fire and death by the Liberals of Brescia--had found some polite
excuses. She now perceived in Greisberg's words the tacit offer of a
bargain, and stood on her guard. She confessed to her cousin that she
was unable to guess even this. Indeed she felt she was growing more and
more stupid every day. The effect of years and grief! "I have had a
great grief very lately," she said. "I am told that the Police have
searched my grandson's house at Oria."

Greisberg, feeling that this elderly hypocrite was slipping through his
fingers, now pulled off his glove, and seized her with his talons.
"Marchesa," said he, in a tone which admitted of no rejoinder, "you must
not speak of grief! Through the Commissary of Porlezza and myself, you
have furnished precious information to the government, of which service
it is not unmindful. Not a hair of your grandson's head was touched, nor
will be, if he is judicious. But, on the other hand, I regret that we
may perhaps not be able to adopt severe measures against another person
who has injured you seriously in private matters. In order to find a
means of reaching this person the Commissary has even exceeded his duty.
You must understand once for all, Marchesa, that this is not a question
of grief, and that you are especially indebted to the government." The
Marchesa had never before been spoken to in such strong language and
with such formidable authority. Perhaps the continuous, undulating
movement of neck and head visible above her stiffly-held body,
corresponded with the angry beating of her heart, but it seemed the
movement of some animal struggling to swallow an enormous mouthful. At
any rate she did not unbend sufficiently to speak a word of
acquiescence. Only, having regained her obese calm, she observed that
she had never demanded that measures be adopted against any one; that
she was glad the search had revealed nothing incriminating against
Engineer Ribera; that, nevertheless, all sorts of things had been said
in Casa Ribera, but that words were difficult to trace. The Chevalier
replied more gently, that he could not say whether anything had been
discovered, and that the last word would be spoken by the Marshal
himself, who intended to give this matter his personal attention. This
remark enabled him to return to the subject of the villa at Monzambano.
He asked for it formally for His Excellency, who wished to go there
within a week. The Marchesa thanked him for the great honour, which she
said, her villa did not deserve; it seemed to her too dilapidated, it
wanted repairing, and His Excellency must be informed of this. She
wished to defer her decision, to await the payment of the miserable
price of her condescension, but the Chevalier struck another blow with
his talons, and declared she must answer at once, answer clearly, yes or
no, and the old lady was forced to bow her head. "To accommodate His
Excellency," she said. Greisberg at once became amiable again, and
jested about the measures to be adopted against that _Signor Ingegnere_.
There was no question of spilling blood, only a little ink need be
spilled. There was no question of depriving any one of liberty, rather
of conferring perfect liberty on somebody. The Marchesa made no sign.
She sent for two lemonades, and drank hers slowly in little sips, not
without a faint expression of satisfaction between the sips, as if this
lemonade had a new and exquisite flavour. But the Chevalier wished for
an explicit word from her concerning Ribera, a confession of her
desire, and placing the glass he had hastily drained upon the tray, he
said, "I will see to this myself, you know, and we shall succeed. Are
you satisfied?"

The Marchesa continued to sip the lemonade slowly, slowly, gazing into
the glass.

"Does that suit you?" her cousin asked, having waited in vain for an
answer.

"Yes, it is very good," the drowsy voice replied. "I drink it slowly on
account of my teeth."

       *       *       *       *       *

The last whisperings were not human. Luisa and Franco were seated on the
grass at Looch, near the cemetery. They were speaking of the mother's
great and exquisite goodness, and comparing it to Uncle Piero's great
and simple goodness, noting the similarity and the differences. They did
not say which sort of goodness, taken as a whole, seemed to them
superior, but from the opinions each expressed, their different
inclinations could be divined. Franco preferred that goodness which is
permeated with faith in the supernatural, while Luisa preferred the
other form of goodness. He was grieved by this secret contradiction, but
hesitated to reveal it, fearing to sound a too painful note. But it had
brought a cloud to his brow, and presently he said, almost
involuntarily: "How many misfortunes, how much bitterness your mother
suffered, with such great resignation, such strength, such peace! Do you
believe that natural goodness alone would be able to suffer thus?" "I
do not know," Luisa replied. "I think poor Mamma must have lived in a
better world before she was born into this, for her heart was always
there." She did not say all she thought. She thought that if all the
good souls on earth resembled her mother in religious meekness, this
world would become the kingdom of the rascal and the tyrant. And as to
ills, which do not come from man, but from the very conditions of human
life itself, she felt greater admiration for such as strive against them
with their own strength, than for such as invoke and obtain aid from
that same Being by whom the blow was dealt. She would not confess these
sentiments to her husband, but instead, expressed the hope that her
uncle might never suffer deep affliction. Could it be possible that the
Lord would wish such a man to suffer? "No, no, no!" Franco exclaimed; at
another moment he would not perhaps have dared to admonish God in this
manner. A breath of the _Boglia_ swept down the ravine of Muzài, and
rustled the top branches of the walnut-trees. To Luisa that fluttering
seemed connected with Franco's last words; it seemed to her that the
wind and the great trees knew something of the future, and were
whispering about it together.



CHAPTER V

THE SECRET OF THE WIND AND THE WALNUT-TREES


Maria's fever lasted only eight days; nevertheless, when she left her
bed, her parents found her more changed in face and in mind than if the
eight days had been eight months. Her eyes had grown darker, and had
assumed a peculiar expression of calm and precocious maturity. She spoke
more distinctly and rapidly, but to those who were not to her liking,
she would not speak at all, would not even greet them. This was more
displeasing to Franco than to Luisa. Franco wished her to be amiable,
but Luisa feared to spoil her sincerity. For her mother Maria cherished
an affection violent rather than demonstrative, a jealous, almost fierce
affection. She was very fond of her father also, but it was evident that
she felt he was unlike herself. Franco had passionate outbursts of
affection for her, when he would catch her up unexpectedly, press her
close, and cover her with kisses. At such moments she would throw her
head back, plant one little hand upon her father's face, and look
frowningly at him, as if something in him were strange and repugnant to
her. Often Franco would scold her angrily, and Maria would cry and stare
at him through her tears, motionless, and as if fascinated, and always
wearing the expression of one who does not understand. He noticed the
child's predilection for her mother, and this was pleasing to him, for
it seemed a just preference, and he never doubted that later Maria would
love him tenderly also. Luisa, loving her husband as she did, was much
troubled that the child should exhibit greater affection for herself;
however this sentiment of hers was less lively, less pure, than Franco's
generous pleasure. It seemed to Luisa that, after all, in spite of his
transports, Franco loved his daughter as a being distinct from himself,
while she, who had no transports of external tenderness, loved the child
as a vital part of herself. Moreover she cherished in her heart a future
Maria probably very different from the one Franco cherished. For this
reason also she could not regret her moral ascendency over her daughter.
She foresaw the danger that Franco might favour an exaggerated
development of the child's religious sentiment, and this, to her, was a
very serious danger, for in Maria, full of curiosity, eager for stories,
there were the germs of a very lively imagination, which would be most
favourable to religious fancies, and a badly balanced moral sense might
be the result. It was not a question of abolishing religious sentiment;
this Luisa, out of respect for Franco, if for no other reason, would
never have sought to do, but it was imperative that Maria, on reaching
womanhood, should be able to find the pivot of her own existence in her
own sure and vigorous moral sense, a moral sense not founded upon
beliefs which, after all, were simply hypotheses and opinions, and
which, sooner or later, might fail her. The preservation of faith in
Justice and in Truth, setting aside all other faith, all hope, all fear,
seemed to her the most sublime condition of the human conscience. She
believed that because she went to Mass, and twice a year to the
sacraments, she had renounced such perfection for herself, and she
intended to renounce it for Maria also, but as one who, finding himself
hampered by wife and children, must renounce Christian perfection, but
who does so unwillingly, and in as slight a degree as possible.

Fate might bestow riches upon Maria. Therefore they must carefully
provide against her acceptance of a life of frivolity, compensated for
by the giving of alms, the Mass in the morning, and the rosary at night.
On several occasions Luisa had attempted to sound Franco upon the
question of giving Maria's education a moral direction quite apart from
the religious direction, but such attempts had never been accompanied by
satisfactory results. Franco could understand an unbelief in religion,
but it was quite incomprehensible to him that there were those who found
religion insufficient as a rule of life. He had never for a moment
believed that all should aspire to saintliness, or that those who love
_tarocchi_, primero, hunting, fishing, nice little dinners and a bottle
of fine wine, are not good Christians. And this moral direction in
education as divided from the religious direction seemed to him a mere
notion, because, to his thinking, all honest men who did not believe,
were honest either by nature or from habit, and not from any moral or
philosophical reasoning. So it was not possible for Luisa to come to an
understanding with her husband on this delicate point. She must act
alone and very cautiously, in order neither to offend nor to grieve him.
When Franco pointed out to the child the stars and the moon, the flowers
and the butterflies, as admirable works of God, using poetically
religious language fit for a child of twelve, Luisa held her peace; but
if, on the contrary, he chanced to say to Maria: "Mind, God does not
wish you to do that!" Luisa would immediately add: "That is wicked! You
must never do what is wicked!" In such cases some dissension must
inevitably arise between the parents, for the moral judgment of one was
not always in harmony with the moral judgment of the other. Once they
were standing together at the window of the hall, while Maria played
with a little girl of about her own age from Oria. A brother of the
child passed, a tyrant of eight, and ordered his little sister to follow
him. She refused and wept. But Maria, looking very grave, faced the
tyrant with clenched fists. Franco restrained her by a sharp command;
the little one turned and looked at him, and then burst into tears,
while the tyrant dragged his victim away. Luisa left the window, saying
in an undertone to her husband: "Excuse me, but that was not just." "Why
was it not just?" said Franco, and he became heated and raised his
voice, demanding whether his wife wished Maria to grow up pugilistic and
violent. She answered gently and firmly, overlooking some sharp words of
his, and maintaining that Maria's impulse had been good; that our first
duty is to withstand tyranny and injustice; and that, though the child
use his fists, the man would use more civilised weapons; but if the
natural impulse of the soul be repressed in the child, there was danger
of destroying the nascent sense of justice as well.

Franco would not be convinced. According to him it was very doubtful
whether Maria had harboured any such heroic sentiments. She had simply
been angry because she was to be deprived of her playmate, that was all.
Besides, was it not a woman's place to oppose gentle meekness to
injustice and tyranny, to appease and correct the offender, rather than
repulse the offence by force? Luisa flushed crimson, and replied that
this rôle might suit some women, perhaps the best of women, but it would
certainly not suit all, for not all were so meek and humble.

"And you are of that number?"

"I believe so."

"A fine thing to boast of!"

"Does it grieve you very much?"

"Very much indeed."

Luisa placed her hands on his shoulders. "Does it grieve you very much,"
said she, "that I rebel as you yourself do against the presence of these
masters in our house; that I desire as you yourself do, to help, even
with my hands, in driving them out? Or would you prefer to see me
attempt to correct Radetzky and appease the Croatians?"

"That is a different thing."

"In what way? No, it is the same thing."

"It is a different thing!" Franco repeated, but he was unable to
demonstrate this. He felt he was wrong according to superficial
ratiocination, and right according to a profound truth which he was
unable to grasp. He said no more but was thoughtful all day, and was
evidently seeking for an answer. He thought about it in the night also,
and finally, believing he had found an answer, called to his wife, who
was asleep.

"Luisa!" said he. "Luisa, that is a different thing."

"What is the matter?" Luisa exclaimed, waking with a start.

He had reflected that the offence of a foreign dominion was not personal
like a private offence, and was always the result of a violation of a
principle of universal justice. But while he was explaining this to his
wife it struck him that in private offences also there was always the
violation of a principle of universal justice, and he fancied he must
have blundered.

"Nothing," said he.

His wife thought he was dreaming, and placing her head upon his
shoulder, she went to sleep again. If any argument could convert Franco
to his wife's ideas it was this sweet contact, this gentle breathing
upon his breast, in which he had so often and so deliciously felt the
blending of their two souls. But now it was not so. Through his brain
the thought flashed suddenly like a quick and cold blade, that this
latent antagonism between his wife's views and his own might one day
burst forth in some painful form, and, terrified, he pressed her in his
arms, as if to defend both himself and her against the phantoms of his
own brain.

       *       *       *       *       *

After breakfast, on the sixth of November Franco took his great
gardening-shears and proceeded as usual, to the extermination of all dry
leaves and branches on the terrace and in the little garden. The great
beauty and deep peace of the hour went to the heart. Not a leaf stirred;
the air from the west was most pure and crystalline; on the east the
hills between Osteno and Porlezza were fading against a background of
light mist; the house was glorious with the sun and the tremulous
reflections from the lake; but though the sun was still very hot, the
chrysanthemums in the little garden, the olives and laurels along the
coast--more plainly visible now among the reddening, falling leaves--a
certain secret freshness in the air, scented with _olea fragrans_, the
absence of all wind, the vaporous mountains of the Lake of Como, white
with snow, all said, with one melancholy accord, that the sweet season
was dying. When he had exterminated the withered brushwood Franco
proposed to his wife that they should go to Casarico in their boat, and
return the two first volumes of the _Mystères du Peuple_ which they had
eagerly devoured in a few days, to their friend Gilardoni, and borrow
the next volume from him. They decided to start after lunch, when Maria
should have gone to bed. But before Maria had been put to bed Barborin
Pasotti appeared, all out of breath, her bonnet and mantle askew. She
had come up from the garden-gate, and now stopped on the threshold of
the hall. It was the first time she had been to see them since the
search. Upon catching sight of her friends she clasped her hands, and
kept repeating in a low tone: "Oh, Lord! Oh, Lord! Oh, Lord!" Then she
flung herself upon Luisa and covered her with kisses.

"My dear girl! My dear girl!" she exclaimed. She would have liked to
treat Franco in the same way, but Franco was not favourable to this sort
of emotion, and his expression was not encouraging, so the poor woman
had to be satisfied with taking both his hands and shaking them
heartily. "My dear Don Franco! My dear Don Franco!" Finally she gathered
Maria into her arms, but the child planted her two little hands upon
Barborin's chest, her face wearing an expression similar to her
father's. "I am old, am I not? And ugly? You don't like me? Well, never
mind, never mind!" And she fell to kissing the child's arms and
shoulders humbly, not daring to brave the sour little face. Then she
told her friends she had brought them a piece of good news, and her eyes
sparkled at the pleasant mystery. The Marchesa had written to Pasotti,
and one passage in the letter Barborin had committed to memory. "It was
with the deepest regret (deepest regret, those were the very words) that
I learned of the sad affair at Oria ... at Oria ... (wait a moment) the
sad affair at Oria ... (ah!) and although my grandson is most
undeserving (wait! ... have patience!) I trust that it may have no
unpleasant consequences." The passage did not produce any great effect.
Luisa frowned and said nothing. Franco glanced at his wife, and did not
dare to utter the favourable comment he had on his lips, but not in his
heart. Poor Barborin, who had taken advantage of her husband's absence
at Lugano to run to her friends with this sugar-plum, was deeply
mortified, and after gazing ruefully from Luisa to Franco, ended by
pulling a real sugar-plum from her pocket, and offering it to Maria.
Then, having made out that the Maironis wanted to go away in the boat,
and longing to be allowed to stay with Maria a little while, she begged
and entreated so hard that they finally started, leaving orders with
Veronica to put the child to bed a little later.

Maria did not seem any too well pleased with the company of her elderly
friend. She remained silent, obstinately silent, and before long she
opened her mouth and burst into tears. Poor Barborin did not know which
Saint to appeal to, so she appealed to Veronica, but Veronica was
discoursing with a customs-guard, and either did not or would not hear.
Barborin showed her rings, her watch, even the big bonnet, _â la
vice-reine Beauharnais_, but nothing would do, and Maria continued to
weep. Then she bethought her of going to the piano, where she strummed
eight or ten bars of an antediluvian jig over and over again. Then
little Princess Maria became more amiable, and allowed her old
court-pianist to lift her as carefully as if her little arms had been a
butterfly's wings, and place her on her lap as softly as if there had
been danger of the old legs crumbling to dust.

When the jig had been repeated five or six times Maria began to look
bored and tried to pull the elderly pianist's hand from the key-board,
saying in an undertone: "Sing me a song." Obtaining no answer, she
turned, looked Barborin straight in the face, and shouted at the top of
her voice: "Sing me a song."

"I don't understand," Barborin replied. "I am deaf."

"Why are you deaf?"

"I am deaf," the unfortunate woman answered, smiling.

"But why are you deaf?"

Barborin could not imagine what the child was saying.

"I don't understand," said she.

"Then you are stupid," Maria announced with a very serious face, and
knitting her brows, she repeated in a whining voice: "I want a song!"

A voice from the little garden said--

"Here is the person for songs."

Maria raised her head and her face became radiant. "Missipipì!" she
cried, and slipping down from Barborin's lap, ran to meet Uncle Piero
who was coming in. Signora Pasotti rose also, astonished and smiling,
and stretched out her arms towards this old and unexpected friend.
"Behold, behold, behold!" she exclaimed, and hastened to greet him.
Maria was calling so loudly for "Missipipì, Missipipì!" and clinging so
tight to Uncle Piero's legs, that, although he did not seem inclined to
do so, he was obliged to sit down on the sofa, take the child on his
knees, and repeat the old story to her.

    Proud shade of the river----

After four or five "Missipipìs" Signora Pasotti went home, fearing her
husband might return. Veronica wished to put the child to bed, but the
little one rebelled, and Uncle Piero interfered, saying: "Oh, leave her
here a little while longer," and he took her out to the terrace to see
if Papa and Mamma were coming.

No boat could be seen coming from Casarico. The little one ordered her
uncle to sit down, and then she climbed upon his knee.

"Why did you come?" said she. "There isn't any dinner for you, you
know."

"Then you must cook some for me. I came to stay with you."

"Always?"

"Always."

"But really always, always, always?"

"Really always."

Maria became silent and thoughtful, but presently she asked--

"What have you brought me?"

Uncle Piero drew a rubber doll from his pocket. Had Maria known, had she
been able to understand how he had gone out to buy that doll for her in
great anguish of mind, still smarting from a terrible blow, she would
have wept with pity.

"This is an ugly present," said she, recalling others he had brought
her. "And if you stay here will you never bring me any more presents?"

"No more presents."

"Go away, Uncle," said she.

He smiled.

And then Maria wanted her uncle to tell her if his uncle had brought him
presents when he was a little boy. But, though the thing was
inconceivable to Maria, this uncle of her uncle had never existed. Who
had brought him presents, then? And had he always been a good little
boy? Had he cried much? Her uncle began telling her many tales of his
childhood, things that had happened sixty years before, when people wore
wigs and pig-tails. He enjoyed talking to his little grand-niece of that
far-away time, making her share for a moment the existence of his dead
parents, and he spoke with sad gravity, as if the dear ones who had
passed away had been present, and he were speaking more for them than
for her. She fixed her wide-open eyes on his face, and gazed intently at
him. Neither he nor she heeded the flight of time, neither he nor she
thought of the boat that was coming.

And the boat came. Luisa and Franco drew near, suspecting nothing, and
believing the child to be asleep. Franco was the first to perceive Uncle
Piero seated under the drooping branches of the passion-flower vine with
Maria on his knee. He uttered a loud exclamation of surprise, and,
followed by Luisa, hastened towards them, fearing something had
happened. "You here?" he called as he ran. Luisa, who was very pale,
said nothing. Uncle Piero raised his head, and looked at them. They felt
at once that he had brought bad news, for they had never seen him so
grave.

"_Addio!_ God bless you!" said he.

"What has happened?" Franco whispered. Uncle Piero motioned to them to
withdraw from the terrace to the loggia, whither he followed them. Then
the poor old man spread wide his arms as one crucified, and said in a
sad but firm voice--

"I am dismissed."

Franco and Luisa stared at him for a moment, dazed. Then Franco burst
out: "Oh, Uncle, Uncle!" and fell upon his neck. Seeing her father's
action and the expression on her mother's face Maria fell to sobbing.
Luisa tried to pacify her, but she herself, strong woman that she was,
felt the tears rising in her throat.

Seated on the sofa in the hall Uncle Piero told them that the Imperial
and Royal Delegate of Como had sent for him to tell him that the search
which had been carried out in his house at Oria had given painful and
unexpected results, but what these results were he had positively
refused to state. The Delegate had added that the authorities had at
first intended to take legal proceedings against him, but that in
consideration of his long and faithful services to the government, it
had been decided to remove him from office instead. Uncle Piero had
insisted upon knowing the nature of the accusations brought against him,
but the Delegate had dismissed him without an answer.

"And what is to be done now?" said Franco.

"What is to be done----" Uncle Piero was silent for a moment, and then
pronounced that sacramental phrase of unknown origin which he and his
fellow _tarocchi_ players were in the habit of repeating when the game
was hopelessly lost. "We are done brown, O Queen!"

A long silence ensued, which was finally broken by Luisa, who cast
herself upon her uncle's neck, murmuring: "Oh, Uncle, Uncle! I am afraid
it is our fault." She was thinking of the grandmother, but Uncle Piero
thought she was accusing Franco and herself of some imprudence.

"Listen, my dear friends," said he good-naturedly, but in his tone there
was a hidden spirit of reproof, "these discourses are useless. Now that
the evil is done we must think of bread. You may count upon this house,
upon some modest savings which bring me in about four _svanziche_ a day,
and upon two more mouths to feed, mine and Cia's. Let us hope you will
not have to feed mine long." Franco and Luisa protested. "Better so,
better so!" Uncle Piero exclaimed, waving his arms as if in contempt of
unreasonable sentimentality. "Live well, and die in good time. That is
the best rule. I have performed the first part, now I must perform the
second. Meanwhile send some water to my room, and open my bag. You will
find ten meat croquettes, which Signora Carolina dell'Agria insisted
upon giving me. You see we are not so badly off, after all!"

Whereupon Uncle Piero rose and went out at the drawing-room door with a
firm step, and even when his back was turned, displaying a head and body
held erect, and an unruffled serenity like that of an ancient
philosopher.

Franco, with knitted brows and arms crossed upon his breast, was
standing motionless on the edge of the terrace, and looking towards
Cressogno. If at that moment he had had a bundle of Delegates,
Commissaries, police-agents, and spies between his teeth, he would have
ground them so hard that all these functionaries would have been reduced
to pulp.



CHAPTER VI

THE TRUMP CARD APPEARS


"The boat is ready," said Ismaele, coming in unceremoniously, his pipe
in his left hand, a lantern in his right.

"What time is it?" Franco asked.

"Half-past eleven."

"And the weather?"

"It is snowing."

"That is good!" Uncle Piero exclaimed ironically, stretching his legs
towards the flames of the juniper bush that was crackling in the little
fireplace.

In the small parlour, arranged for winter, Luisa, on her knees, was
tying a muffler round Maria's neck. Franco, holding his wife's cape,
stood waiting while the old housekeeper, her bonnet on and her hands
buried in her muff, was grumbling at her master. "What a man you are!
What are you going to do all alone here at home?"

"I don't need any one when I am asleep," the engineer answered. "Other
people may be mad, but I am not. Put my milk and the lamp here."

It was Christmas Eve and the mad idea these otherwise sane people had
conceived, the determination which seemed so incomprehensible to Uncle
Piero, was to go to the solemn Midnight-Mass at S. Mamette.

"And that innocent victim also!" said he, glancing at the child.

Franco flushed hotly, and declared that he wished to prepare precious
memories for her. He believed this excursion at night, in the boat, on
the dark lake, the snow, the crowded and brightly lighted church, the
organ, the singing, the holy associations of Christmas, would prove to
be such. He spoke with heat, perhaps not so much for the uncle as for
some one who was silent.

"Yes, yes, yes," said Uncle Piero, as if he had expected this rhetoric,
this useless poetry.

"I am going to have some punch, too, you know!" said the child. The
uncle smiled. "That is not bad! That will indeed form a precious
memory!" Franco frowned at beholding his frail structure of poetical and
religious memories thus demolished.

"And Gilardoni?" Luisa asked.

"Here they are now," Ismaele said, going out with his lantern.

Professor Gilardoni had invited the Maironis and Donna Ester Bianchi to
come to his house for punch after Mass. He was now expected from
Niscioree, whither he had gone to fetch the young lady, who had lived
there alone with two maid-servants since her father's death, which had
taken place in 1852. The worthy Professor had mourned secretly for
Signora Teresa for a reasonable length of time, but during the
convalescence of his heart, which kept him weak and languid, and in
permanent danger of a relapse, he had not been careful enough of the
merry little face, the lively eyes, and sparkling gaiety of the little
Princess of Niscioree, as the Maironis called Donna Ester.

At seven-and-twenty Donna Ester looked like a girl of twenty, save in
her movements there was a certain languor, and in her eyes a certain
delicious hidden knowledge. She had not intended to fish for this
respectable lover, but now she knew he was caught, and she was pleased,
believing him to be a man of great genius, and infinite wisdom. That he
should ever dare speak to her of love, that she might marry all this
sallow, wrinkled, dry knowledge, had never entered her head.
Nevertheless she did not wish to quench this little fire, which was so
discreet, which was an honour to her, and probably a source of happiness
to him. If she sometimes laughed about him with Luisa she was never the
first to laugh, and always hastened to repeat: "Poor Signor Gilardoni!
Poor Professor!"

She came in hastily, her fair head enveloped in a great black hood,
looking like Spring out on the spree disguised as December. December was
close behind her, his neck shrouded in a great scarf, above which rose
the red and shining professorial nose, irritated by the snow. As it was
already late they immediately took leave of Uncle Piero, who was left
alone with his milk and his lamp before the dying embers of the
juniper-bush.

A slight shadow of disapproval still rested on his face. Franco was
playing the poet too much. Nowadays life was hard at Casa Maironi.
Breakfast consisted of a cup of milk and chicory-coffee, and they used a
sort of reddish sugar that tasted of the chemist's shop. They indulged
in meat only on Thursdays and Sundays. A bottle of Grimelli wine
appeared on the table regularly every day for Uncle Piero, who rebelled
against being the privileged one. Every day clouds gathered around this
bottle and a little storm burst forth, which, however, always ended as
Uncle Piero wished, in a short shower of the decoction into each of the
five glasses. The servant had been dismissed, and only Veronica remained
to do the heavy work, stir the _polenta_, and sometimes look after
Maria. But in spite of these and other economies Luisa could not make
both ends meet, though Cia had refused to accept any wages, and gifts of
curds, of _mascherpa_, of goats'-cheeses, of chestnuts and walnuts were
always pouring in upon them from the townspeople. She had obtained some
copying from a notary at Porlezza, but it was hard work for miserable
pay. Franco had also begun to copy diligently, but he accomplished less
than his wife and, moreover, there was not work enough for two. He
should have bestirred himself, have sought some private employment, but
Uncle Piero saw no signs of this, and so----?

And so this thinking about poetic expeditions seemed to him more out of
place than ever. After having pondered a long time upon their sad
plight, and upon the slender probability that Franco would ever be able
to extricate them from it, he reflected that, for him, the first thing
to do was to drink his milk, and the second, to go to bed. But another
thought came to him. He opened the hall-door, and seeing the room was
quite dark, went into the kitchen, lighted a lantern, and carried it to
the loggia, where he opened one of the windows. Although it was snowing
there was no wind, so he placed the lantern on the window-sill, that its
light might help those poetic people to steer their homeward course over
the dark lake.

Then he went to bed.

       *       *       *       *       *

Ismaele brought his freight safely to S. Mamette in the covered boat.
The snow was still falling placidly in big flakes. The church was
already quite full, and even the ladies were obliged to stand, behind
the first row of benches. Ester volunteered to look after Maria, and
lifted her to a seat on top of the bench in front of them, while the
sacristan was busy lighting the candles on the high-altar. Cia was
tormenting the Professor, whom she believed to be a pious man, with a
thousand questions concerning the difference between the Roman and
Ambrosian rites, and Maria was keeping Ester busy with still more
puzzling questions.

"Who are they lighting those candles for?"

"For our Lord."

"Is our Lord going to bed now?"

"No, hush!"

"And has the _bambino Gesu_--the child Jesus--gone to bed already?"

"Yes, yes," Ester replied thoughtlessly, to put an end to these
questions.

"With the mule?"

Once Uncle Piero had brought Maria an ugly, little wooden mule which she
detested, and when she was obstinate and capricious her mother would put
her to bed with the mule under her pillow, under her obstinate little
head.

"Be quiet, chatterbox!" said Ester.

"I don't go to bed with the mule. I say _excuse me_!"

"Hush! Listen to the organ."

All the candles were now lighted, and the organist having mounted to his
post, was teasing his old instrument as if to waken it, drawing from it
what seemed to be angry grunts. When, on the ringing of a bell, the
organ poured forth all its great voice, and the altar-boys and the
priest appeared, Luisa stole her hand into her husband's, as if they had
still been lovers.

Those two hands pressing each other furtively were speaking of a fast
approaching event, of a serious resolve which must be kept a secret,
and which was not yet formed irrevocably. The little nervous hand said:
"Have courage!" The manly hand said: "I will!" They must indeed make up
their minds to it. Franco must go away, leave his wife, his child, and
the old man, perhaps for some months, perhaps for some years. He must
leave Valsolda, the dear little house, his flowers, perhaps for ever. He
must emigrate to Piedmont, seek for work and gain, in the hope of being
able to call his family to him in case that other great national hope
should not be realised. He was glad his wife had chosen this solemn
place and hour in which to encourage him in his sacrifice, and he did
not drop the gentle hand, but held it as a lover might, never looking at
Luisa, his face and person immovable. He spoke with his hand only, with
his soul in palm and fingers, he spoke the most varied, passionate
language, consisting of soft caresses, of embraces, of tenderness and
ardour. From time to time she would endeavour to gently withdraw her
hand, and then he would clasp it violently. His gaze was fixed on the
altar, and he held his head erect as if absorbed in the music of the
organ, in the voice of the priest, in the singing of the congregation.
As a matter of fact he was not following the prayers, but he felt the
Divine Presence, was experiencing an ecstasy, a fervour of love, of
pain, of hope in God. Luisa had taken his hand in the belief that he was
praying, that all his fears, all his doubts were stirring in his soul.
She had indeed wished to inspire him with courage, convinced that this
painful step was best for him. She only half understood the pressure
that answered her; it seemed to her a passionate protest against this
separation, and although this was most sweet to her, she could not
approve of it, and so from time to time she strove to withdraw her hand.
At the moment of the Elevation it was he who withdrew his, out of
respect. Then he was obliged to take Maria in his arms, for she had
fallen asleep, and slept on, her head on her father's shoulder,
displaying half of a little, peaceful face. She, his darling, did not
know that her father was going so far away, and his heart was filled
with tender yearning towards that little, warm treasure, which breathed
upon it, towards that tiny head, which had the perfume of a little wild
bird. He imagined himself already gone, imagined that she was seeking
for him, was crying, and then a desire to press her closer ran through
his arms, a desire he quickly checked for fear of waking her.

It had stopped snowing when they left the church.

"Wind! Wind!" said Ismaele, coming towards them.

"I shall walk! I shall walk!" groaned Cia, who had a great horror of the
lake. Meanwhile the crowd issuing from the church pushed and dispersed
the group, and carried them down the steps. The six travellers and the
boatmen met again in the square of S. Mamette and here Donna Ester
declared that, as she was not feeling very well, she must forego the
punch, and that she would walk home with Cia.

Franco, Luisa, and the Professor saw it would be useless to insist, and
the two women started towards Oria escorted by Ismaele, who was to come
back for the Maironis and the boat.

       *       *       *       *       *

A _moderateur_ lamp illumined Gilardoni's salon, a good fire was burning
on the hearth, and Pinella had prepared everything for the punch over
which Luisa presided, the host himself being much depressed in spirit by
Donna Ester's desertion.

"Look at Maria," said Franco softly.

The little one had gone to sleep in the Professor's armchair near the
window. Franco took the lamp and held it aloft in order to see her
better. She seemed like some little creature descended from heaven,
fallen there with the star-light, unconscious, her face suffused with a
sweetness which was not of this world, with a solemnity full of mystery.
"Darling!" said he, and drew his wife towards him with an encircling
arm, his eyes still fixed on Maria. Gilardoni came up behind them, and
murmured: "How lovely!" Then he went back to the fireplace sighing:
"Happy people!"

Franco, who was deeply moved, whispered in his wife's ear: "Shall we
tell him?" She did not understand, and looked questioningly into his
eyes. "That I am going away," said he, still in an undertone. Luisa
started and answered, "Yes, yes!" She was greatly affected, for she had
not expected this. In the church she had believed he was still
undecided. Her astonishment did not escape Franco. He was troubled by it
and felt his resolution shaken, but she at once perceived this, and
repeated earnestly: "Yes, yes!" and gently pushed him towards Gilardoni.

"Dear friend," said he, "I have something to tell you."

The Professor, absorbed in contemplation of the fire, did not answer.
Franco placed a hand on his shoulder. "Ah!" he exclaimed, rousing
himself, "I beg your pardon! What it is?"

"I wish to commend some one to your care."

"To my care? Who is it?"

"An old man, a woman, and a little child."

The two men looked at each other in silence, one deeply moved, the other
amazed.

"Don't you understand?" Luisa whispered.

No, he neither understood nor answered.

"I commend my wife, my daughter, and the old uncle to your care," Franco
replied.

"Oh!" the Professor exclaimed, looking in astonishment from one to the
other.

"I am going away," said Franco, with a smile that went to Gilardoni's
heart. "We have not told Uncle Piero yet, but I must go. In our position
I cannot stay here doing nothing. I shall say I am going to Milan, and
those who will may believe it, but I shall really be in Piedmont."

Gilardoni clasped his hands in silent amazement. Luisa embraced Franco
and kissed him, holding his head upon her breast, her eyes closed.

The Professor imagined it was painful to her to bow to her husband's
will in this matter.

"Now listen to me," said he, addressing Franco. "If war had broken out I
could understand your going, but as it is, I think you do wrong to cause
your wife so much suffering for a question of money."

Luisa who was still clinging with one arm to her husband's neck,
motioned to Professor Gilardoni with the other hand, entreating him to
be silent.

"No, no, no!" she murmured, once more clasping her arms about Franco.
"You are doing right! You are doing right!" As Gilardoni continued to
insist, she drew away from her husband, and cried, her hands extended
protestingly towards their host: "But, Professor, it is I who tell him
he is doing right! I, his wife, tell him so! Dear Professor, don't you
understand?"

"After all, dear lady," Gilardoni burst out, "it is time you were
informed----"

Franco flung his arms towards him, crying impetuously: "Professor!"

"You are doing wrong," the other replied. "You are doing wrong, very
wrong!"

"What is it, Franco?" Luisa demanded in astonishment. "Is there
something I do not know?"

"Only that I must go away, that I shall go away. That is all!"

Franco's exclamation, "Professor!" had awakened Maria with a start.
Seeing her mother's agitation she prepared to cry; presently she burst
into violent sobbing, and wailed: "No Papa! Papa not go away! Not go
away!"

Franco took her in his arms, kissing and caressing her, while she kept
repeating: "My Papa! My Papa!" in a pitiful, grieved voice that made
their hearts ache. Her father yearned over her, and protested that he
would always stay with her; but he wept at his own deceit, wept with the
emotion this new tenderness, springing up at such a moment, caused him.

Luisa was thinking of her husband's cry. Gilardoni saw she suspected a
secret, and, hoping to distract her thoughts, asked her if Franco
intended to start at once. Franco himself replied. Everything depended
upon a letter from Turin. Perhaps it would be a week, at the latest a
fortnight, before he started. Luisa was silent, and the subject was
dropped. Then Franco talked of politics, of the probability that war
would break out in the Spring. But again conversation soon languished.
Gilardoni and Luisa seemed to be thinking of something else, to be
listening to the beat of the waves against the garden wall. Finally
Ismaele returned, drank his punch, and assured them that the lake was
not very rough, and that they could start homewards.

As soon as the Maironis were seated in the boat, and Maria had gone to
sleep, Luisa asked her husband if there was something she did not know,
and which Gilardoni must not tell.

Franco did not answer.

"Enough!" said she. Then her husband threw his arm around her neck and
pressed her to him, protesting against words she had not uttered. "Oh,
Luisa, Luisa!"

Luisa suffered his embrace, but did not return it, and at last, in
despair, her husband promised to tell her every thing, at once. "Do you
think I am curious?" she whispered, in his arms. No, no. He would tell
her at once, tell her everything; he would explain why he had not spoken
before. She did not wish this; she preferred that he should speak at
some other time, and of his own free will.

The wind was in their favour and the light shining in the window of the
loggia served Ismaele well as a guide. Franco's arm still encircled his
wife's shoulders, and his gaze was fixed upon that shining point.
Neither he nor she thought of the loving and prudent hand that had
lighted it. But Ismaele thought of it, and reflected that neither
Veronica nor Cia were capable of such an act of genius, and blessed the
engineer's kind heart.

On leaving the boat Maria woke up, and her parents seemed to have no
thought save for her. When they were in bed Franco put out the light.

"It concerns my grandmother," said he in a broken and agitated voice.
"Poor boy!" Luisa murmured and took his hand affectionately. "I have
never told you in order to avoid accusing my grandmother, and also
because----" He paused, and then it was he who mingled with his words
the most tender caresses, to which Luisa now no longer responded. "I
feared your impressions, your sentiments, the ideas you might
conceive----!" As his words began to express his doubts his voice grew
more tender.

Luisa felt the approach, not of a dispute, but of a far more lasting
disagreement. Now, she no longer wished her husband to speak, and he,
noticing her increasing coldness, did not continue. She rested her
forehead against his shoulder, and said, almost in spite of herself:
"Tell me!"

Then Franco, his lips against her hair, related the story the Professor
had told him on the night of their marriage. In repeating from memory
the contents of his grandfather's letter and will, he greatly softened
the injurious expressions used against his father and grandmother. In
the middle of his recital Luisa, who had not expected such a revelation,
raised her head from her husband's shoulder. He stopped. "Go on," said
she.

When he had finished she asked if there was any proof that his
grandfather's will had been suppressed. Franco promptly answered that
there was not. "Then," said she, "why did you speak of the ideas I
might conceive?" Her thoughts had immediately flown to the probability
of his grandmother's crime, to the possibility of a prosecution. But if
prosecution were not possible?

Franco did not answer, and she exclaimed, after a moment's reflection,
"Ah! the copy of the will! Could that be used? Would that be valid?"

"Yes."

"And you would not use it?"

"No."

"Why not, Franco?"

"There!" Franco exclaimed. "You see? I knew you would say so! No, I will
not make use of it! No, no, never!"

"But what reasons have you for not doing so?"

"Good Lord! My reasons! My reasons can be felt. You should feel them
without my having to explain them."

"I do not feel them. Don't imagine I am thinking of the money. We will
not touch the money. Give it to whomever you like; I feel the claims of
justice. There are your grandfather's wishes to be respected; there is
the crime your grandmother has committed. You who are so religious
should perceive that Divine Justice has brought this document to light.
Would you place yourself between this woman and Divine Justice?"

"Let Divine Justice alone," Franco retorted, hotly. "What do we know of
the ways of Divine Justice? There is also Divine Mercy. She is my
father's mother, think of that! And have I not always despised this
accursed money? What did I do when my grandmother threatened not to
leave me a penny if I married you?"

Unable to speak, he drew Luisa's head to his breast.

"I despised the money for your sake," he went on in a stifled voice.
"Would you have me try to regain it now by going to law?"

"No indeed!" Luisa broke in, raising her head. "You may give the money
to whomever you wish. I am talking of justice. Don't you also feel the
demand of justice?"

"_Dio mio!_" said he, with a deep sigh. "It would have been better if I
had not spoken to-night."

"Yes, perhaps. If you were bound never to alter your decision, it would
perhaps have been wiser."

Luisa's voice expressed sadness, not anger, as she uttered these words.

"In any way, that document no longer exists," Franco remarked.

Luisa started. "It no longer exists?" said she anxiously, in an
undertone.

"No. The Professor was to destroy it, by my orders."

A long silence followed. Very slowly Luisa withdrew her head and rested
it on her own pillow. Suddenly Franco exclaimed, aloud: "A law-suit
indeed! With those documents! With those insults! To the mother of my
father! And all for money!"

"Don't keep repeating that," his wife exclaimed indignantly. "Why do you
keep repeating that? Don't you know very well it is not true?"

Both spoke excitedly. It was plain that during the preceding silence
their thoughts had been hard at work on this point. The reproof
irritated him, and he replied blindly--

"I know nothing about it!"

"Oh, Franco!" cried Luisa, much hurt. He already regretted the affront,
and begged her to forgive him, accusing his hot temper, which made him
say things he did not mean, and he entreated her to speak a kind word to
him. "Yes, yes," Luisa answered with a sigh, but he was not satisfied,
and wished her to embrace him and say, "I forgive you." The touch of the
dear lips did not refresh him as usual. Some minutes passed, and then he
strained his ear to hear if his wife had fallen asleep. He heard the
wind, Maria's quiet breathing, the noise of the waves, the jarring of a
window, but that was all. "Have you really forgiven me?" he whispered,
and he heard her soft answer: "Yes, dear." Presently she, in her turn,
listened, and besides the wind, the waves, the creaking of a shutter,
the even, regular breathing of the child, she heard the even, regular
breathing of her husband. Then she once more sighed deeply, sighed
despairingly. Oh, God! How could Franco have acted thus? What wounded
her heart most sorely was the fact that he did not seem to sense the
injuries which her poor mother and Uncle Piero had suffered. But she
would not allow herself to dwell on this thought, at least not until she
had considered his other mistake, his mistaken idea of justice. And here
she felt bitterly, but not without a certain satisfaction, that he was
her inferior, that he was controlled by sentiments that were the outcome
of his fancy, while her own sentiment was inspired by reason. Franco had
in him so much of the child. He had, even now, been able to go to sleep,
while she was sure of not closing her eyes all night long. She believed
she was without imagination because she did not feel it move, because in
her it was less easily inflamed. She would have laughed had she been
told that imagination was more powerful in her than in her husband. But
indeed such was the case. Only, in order to demonstrate this, both souls
must be turned upside down, for Franco's imagination was visible on the
surface of his soul, and all his reason was at the bottom, while in
Luisa's soul imagination was at the bottom, and reason was plainly
visible on the surface. In fact, she did not sleep, but all night long
she thought, with that imagination that lay at the bottom of her soul,
how religion favours weak sentimentality, how incapable it is, even
while preaching the thirst for justice, of forming a correct sense of
justice in those intellects which are devoted to it.

       *       *       *       *       *

The Professor also, who was subject to serious infiltrations of
imagination into the ratiocinative cells of his brain, as well as into
the amorous cells of his heart, having put out the light, spent the
greater part of the night in front of the fireplace, working with the
tongs and with his imagination, taking up, examining and then dropping
embers and projects, until only one glowing coal and one last idea
remained. Then he took a match, and having held it in contact with the
ember, lighted the lamp once more, seized the idea, which was also hot
and luminous, and carried it off to bed with him.

This was the idea. He would start secretly for Brescia, present himself
before the Marchesa with the terrible document, and obtain a
capitulation.



CHAPTER VII

THE PROFESSOR PLAYS HIS TRUMP CARD


Three days later, in Milan, at five o'clock in the morning, Professor
Gilardoni, muffled up to the eyes, issued from the Albergo degli Angeli,
passed in front of the cathedral, turned into the dark street called dei
Rastrelli behind a line of horses led by postilions, and entered the
booking office of the public coaches. The little courtyard where the
post-office now stands, was already full of people, of horses, of
lanterns. To the hermit of Valsolda all these voices of postilions and
of guards, this stamping of horses and jingling of bells, seemed like a
real pandemonium.

The horses were being harnessed to two coaches, four to each. The
Professor was going to Lodi because he had learned that the Marchesa was
visiting a friend there, and the Lodi coach would start at half-past
five.

It was intensely cold, and the poor Professor wandered anxiously around
the ungainly carriage, stamping his feet to warm them, until presently
another traveller said jestingly to him: "Cool, is it not?" "Just a
little fresh! Just a little fresh!" The horses were harnessed at last,
an employé called the passengers by name, and the worthy Beniamino
disappeared within the bowels of the huge vehicle, together with two
priests, an old woman servant, an elderly gentleman with an enormous
wart on his face, and a fashionably dressed young man. The doors were
closed, an order was given, the bells jingled, the huge vehicle shook
itself, the priests, the old woman, and the gentleman with the wart
crossed themselves, the horses' sixteen hoofs rattled under the portal,
the massive wheels rumbled through it, and then all this noise grew
fainter as the coach turned to the right, towards Porta Romana.

Now the wheels revolved almost noiselessly, and the travellers heard
only the irregular beat of the sixteen hoofs on the stones. The
Professor watched the passing of dark houses, the pale glow of
infrequent street lamps, the flashing light from some small
coffee-house, or a vanishing sentry-box.

It seemed to him that the presence of these soldiers lent something
threatening, something so formidable to the silence of the great city,
that the very walls of the houses were black with hatred. When the coach
entered the Corso di Porta Romana, so filled with fog that he could
hardly see out of the window, he closed his eyes, and gave himself up to
the pleasure of thinking of and conversing with the things and persons
that filled his heart.

It was no longer the passenger with the wart who sat opposite him, but
Donna Ester, all enveloped in a great black cape, a broad-brimmed hat
upon her head. She was looking at him fixedly, and her lovely eyes were
saying: "Well done! You are acting nobly! Showing a great heart. I would
not have believed it! I admire you! To me you are no longer old and
ugly. Courage!" At this exhortation to have courage, he was seized with
fear, for the image of the Marchesa rose before him, and the dull rumble
of the wheels became the old lady's nasal voice, saying: "Won't you sit
down? What can I do for you?"

At this point the coach stopped and the Professor opened his eyes. Porta
Romana. An official opened the door and asked for the passports and
having collected them, carried them away. Returning again in about five
minutes, he restored their passports to all the passengers save the
fashionably dressed young man. To him he said sharply: "Come with me."
The young man turned pale, but got out in silence and did not return. In
a moment or two the door was closed, and a rough voice cried:
"_Avanti!_" The gentleman with the wart placed his travelling-bag on the
seat that was now vacant, but none of the other passengers gave any sign
of having noticed what had happened. Only when the four horses had once
more begun to trot did Gilardoni ask the priest, his neighbour, if he
knew the young man's name, but the priest's only answer was a cross
grunt, as he turned two terrified and suspicious eyes upon the
Professor. Beniamino now looked towards the other priest, who
immediately drew a rosary from his pocket and, having made the sign of
the cross, began to pray. Once more the Professor closed his eyes, and
the image of the unknown young man was lost for ever in the mist, like
the few and phantom-like trees, the poplars and willows, slipping past
on either side of the road.

"How shall I begin?" thought Gilardoni. Ever since Christmas Eve he had
done nothing but imagine and debate within himself how he should present
himself before the Marchesa, how introduce the subject, how explain it,
and what terms he should offer. This was the only point on which he was
clear. If the Marchesa would make her grandson a liberal allowance, he
would destroy the documents. He had not brought them with him, but he
had copies of them. Their effect would surely be tremendous, but how
should he begin? Not one of the many preambles he had thought of
satisfied him. Even now with closed eyes and fancy hard at work, he was
considering the question, starting from the only known factor: "Take a
seat. What can I do for you?" But invariably his answer would appear to
him either too obsequious or too daring, too remote from the subject or
too close to it, and he would once more go back to the beginning. "What
can I do for you?"

The pale light of dawn, dreary, sad, and sleepy, invaded the coach. Now
that the time for the interview was approaching, a thousand doubts, a
thousand fresh uncertainties upset all the Professor's plans. The very
base of his calculations suddenly collapsed. What if the Marchesa should
not say either, "Take a seat," or "What can I do for you?" What if she
should receive him in some other embarrassing manner? And what if she
should not receive him at all! Merciful heavens! What then? The sudden
ringing of the sixteen hoofs on a paved way set his heart to beating.
However, it was not yet the streets of Lodi, but those of Melegnano.

He reached Lodi at about nine o'clock, and got out at the Albergo del
Sole, where they gave him a room without fire or sun. Not daring to
brave either the fog in the street or the fumes in the kitchen, he
decided to go to bed, and putting on his night-cap, which was acquainted
with all his woes, he waited, a camphor cigarette between his lips, for
the coming of noon and a happy thought.

       *       *       *       *       *

At one o'clock he ascended the steps of the Palazzo X. with the wise
determination to carefully forget all the speeches he had prepared, and
to trust to the inspiration of the moment. A footman in a white tie
ushered him into a large, dark apartment, with a brick floor, walls hung
with yellow silk, and a stuccoed ceiling, and having bowed respectfully,
went away. A few antique, white and gilt armchairs covered with red
damask stood in a semicircle before the fireplace, where three or four
enormous logs were burning slowly, behind the brass fender. The air was
laden with the mixed odours of ancient mould, ancient cakes, ancient
stuffs, ancient leather, and decrepit ideas, the whole forming a subtle
essence of old age enough to shrivel the very soul.

The servant reappeared and announced, to Gilardoni's utter confusion,
the imminent arrival of the Signora Marchesa. He waited and waited, and
at last a great door, ornamented with gilding, swung open, a little
moving bell tinkled, Friend trotted in, sniffing the floor to right and
left, and was followed by a great bell-shaped mass of black silk, under
a small cupola of white lace, while, between two blue ribbons, appeared
the black wig, the marble brow, the lifeless eyes of the Marchesa
herself.

"What miracle! The Professor in Lodi!" said the drowsy voice, while the
small dog sniffed at the Professor's boots. Gilardoni made a low bow,
and the lady, who might have been the jar containing the essence of old
age, seated herself on one of the chairs near the fire, and installed
her lap-dog on another; after which she motioned to Gilardoni to be
seated also. "I suppose," said she, "that you have some relative at the
convent of the 'Dame Inglese'?"

"No," the Professor replied, "I have not."

Sometimes the Marchesa was facetious in her own way. "Then," said she,
"you probably came for a supply of _mascherponi_."[M]

"Not for that either, Signora Marchesa. I came on business."

"Indeed. You are unfortunate in the weather. I believe it is raining
now."

At this unexpected digression the Professor came near losing his
bearings. "Yes," said he, feeling that he was growing foolish, like the
scholar whose examination is taking a bad turn. "It is drizzling."

His voice, his expression, could not fail to reveal his inward
embarrassment, to show the Marchesa that he had come to tell her
something important. However, she carefully avoided helping him to
unburden himself, and continued to talk of the weather, the cold, the
dampness, a catarrh from which Friend was suffering, while the dog
punctuated his mistress's recital with frequent sneezes.

The drowsy voice had a calm, almost jocose inflection, a sort of bland
benevolence, and the Professor was bathed in cold sweat at the bare
thought of checking this mellifluous flow, and offering in exchange the
bitter pill he had in his pocket. He might have taken advantage of a
pause to pour forth his preamble, but he was not equal to it, and it was
the Marchesa who seized the opportunity to close the interview.

"I thank you very much for your visit," said she, "and now I am going to
dismiss you, for you have your business to attend to, and, to tell the
truth, I also have an engagement."

Now or never he must take the leap.

"As a matter of fact," Gilardoni began, greatly agitated, "I came to
Lodi to speak with you, Signora Marchesa."

"I should never have been able to guess that," said the lady frigidly.

The Professor was carried forward by the impetus of his daring.

"It is a most urgent matter," said he, "and I must beg----"

"If it is a matter of business, you must apply to my agent in Brescia."

"Pardon me, Signora Marchesa, it is really a most important affair. No
one knows and no one must know that I have come to see you. I will tell
you at once that it concerns your grandson."

The Marchesa rose, and the dog that had been crouching in the armchair
also sprang up, barking in Gilardoni's direction.

"Do not speak to me of that person who no longer exists for me," the old
lady said solemnly. "Come, Friend!"

"No, Signora Marchesa," the Professor protested. "You cannot possibly
imagine what I have to tell you."

"I do not in the least care to know. I do not wish to hear anything.
Good-day to you!"

Whereupon the inflexible old lady moved towards the door.

"Marchesa!" Beniamino called after her, while Friend, who had jumped
from the chair, barked furiously around his legs. "It concerns your
husband's will!"

This time the Marchesa could not but stop. She did not, however, turn
round.

"This will cannot be pleasing to you," Gilardoni added rapidly. "But I
have no intention of publishing it. I entreat you to listen to me,
Marchesa."

She turned round. Her impenetrable face betrayed a certain emotion in
the quivering of the nostrils. Nor were the shoulders entirely at rest.

"What tales have you to tell?" she retorted. "Do you think it fitting to
thus inconsiderately mention my poor Franco to me? How dare you meddle
with my family affairs?"

"Excuse me," the Professor repeated, searching in his pocket. "If I do
not meddle some one else may do so even less considerately. Kindly
examine these documents. These----"

"Keep your scribblings to yourself," the Marchesa interrupted, seeing
him draw some papers from his pocket.

"These are copies I have made----"

"I tell you to keep them, to take them away!"

The Marchesa rang the bell, and once more started to leave the room.

Gilardoni, quivering with excitement, hearing the approaching steps of
a servant, and seeing her about to open the door, threw his documents
upon one of the armchairs, saying hastily, in an undertone: "I will
leave them here. Let no one see them. I am staying at the Sole, and will
return to-morrow. Examine the papers, and think over them carefully!"
And before the servant arrived he had rushed out at the same door by
which he had entered, had seized his heavy cape, and fled downstairs.

The Marchesa dismissed the footman, and stood listening for a few
moments. Then she retraced her steps, took up the papers, and went to
her room, locking her door behind her. Having put on her spectacles she
took her stand near the window, and began to read. Her brow was clouded
and her hands trembled.

       *       *       *       *       *

The Professor was preparing to go to bed in his icy room at the Sole
when two police-agents came with a summons for him to appear at once at
the police-station.

He felt some secret misgivings, but did not lose his head, and went
quietly away with the two men. At the station a little impudent
Commissary asked him why he had come to Lodi, and upon being informed
that he had come on private business shrugged his shoulders in
contemptuous incredulity. What private business did Signor Gilardoni
pretend to have in Lodi? With whom? The Professor mentioned the
Marchesa. "There are no Maironis at Lodi," the Commissary exclaimed,
and when his victim protested he speedily interrupted him. "_Basta!_
That will do! That will do!" The police knew for a certainty that
Professor Gilardoni, although he was an Imperial and Royal pensioner,
was not a loyal Austrian; that he had friends at Lugano, and that he had
come to Lodi for political ends.

"You are better informed than I am," Gilardoni exclaimed, restraining
his wrath with difficulty.

"Silence!" the Commissary commanded. "You must not think the Imperial
and Royal government is afraid of you. You are free to go, but you must
leave Lodi within two hours."

At this point Franco would have immediately perceived from whence the
blow came, but the philosopher did not understand.

"I came to Lodi on most urgent business, which is not yet finished,"
said he. "On most important, private business. How can I leave in two
hours?"

"By carriage. If you are still in Lodi at the end of two hours I shall
have you arrested."

"My health does not permit me to travel at night in December," the
victim urged.

"Very well, then I will have you arrested at once!"

The poor philosopher took up his hat in silence, and went out.

An hour later he started for Milan in a closed calash, his feet
embedded in straw, a rug over his legs, a great muffler round his neck,
reflecting that this had been a most successful expedition, and
swallowing momently to see if his throat were sore. He passed a horrible
night, indeed, but the Marchesa herself did not rest on a bed of roses.


FOOTNOTE:

[M] _Mascherponi_: A sort of common cheese made in Lodi. [_Translator's
note._]



CHAPTER VIII

HOURS OF BITTERNESS


On the last day of the year, while Franco was writing out the very
minute directions concerning the care of the flowers and the
kitchen-garden, which he intended to leave for his wife's guidance, and
the uncle sat reading for the tenth time his favourite book, the
_History of the Diocese of Como_, Luisa went out for a walk with Maria.
The sun was shining brightly. There was no snow save on Bisgnago and
Galbiga. Maria found a violet near the cemetery, and another down in the
Calcinera. There it was really warm, and the air was pleasantly scented
with laurel. Luisa sat down to think, with her back to the hill, and
allowed Maria to amuse herself by climbing up the bank behind her, and
sliding down again on the dry grass.

She had not seen the Professor since Christmas Eve, and she longed to
speak with him; not to hear the story of the Maironi will over again,
but to get him to tell her about his interview with Franco, when he had
shown it to him: to ascertain what Franco's first impression had been
and what the Professor's opinion was. As the will had been destroyed,
all this could only be of psychological importance, but Luisa's
curiosity was not the curiosity of the idle observer. Her husband's
conduct had deeply wounded her. Thinking of it over and over again, as
she had done ever since Christmas Eve, she had arrived at the conclusion
that his silence towards her had been an outrage against justice and
affection. It was a bitter sorrow to her to feel her esteem for him
diminishing, especially bitter now, on the eve of his departure, and at
a time when he really deserved praise. She would have liked, at least,
to know that when Gilardoni had shown him the documents there had been
some inward struggle, that a more just sentiment had been aroused in his
soul, if only for a moment. She rose, took Maria by the hand, and
started towards Casarico.

She found the Professor in the garden with Pinella, and told Maria to
run and play with the boy, but Maria, always eager to listen to the
conversation of her elders, would not hear of going. Then Luisa broached
the subject without mentioning any names. She wished to speak to the
Professor about certain papers, about those old letters. The Professor,
who was crimson, protested that he did not understand. Fortunately,
Pinella called Maria, enticing her with a picture-book, and she ran to
him, conquered by her curiosity concerning the book. Then Luisa relieved
the Professor of his scruples, by informing him that Franco himself had
told her everything, and she confessed to him that she had disapproved
of her husband's conduct, that it had been, and still was a source of
great sorrow to her----

"Why, why, why?" said the worthy Professor, interrupting her. Because
Franco had not been willing to do anything. "I have done something! I
have done something!" Gilardoni exclaimed, anxiously and excitedly. "But
for the love of Heaven, don't tell your husband!" Luisa was amazed. What
had the Professor done? And when, and how? And was not the will already
destroyed?

Then Gilardoni, as red as a glowing coal, his eyes full of anxiety, his
recital often interrupted by such exclamations as, "For mercy's sake,
don't tell!--You will be silent, eh?" revealed all his secrets to her,
from the preserving of the will to his journey to Lodi. Luisa listened
to the very end, and then, clasping her face tightly between her hands,
uttered a horrified "Ah!"

"Did I do wrong?" said the poor Professor, much alarmed. "Did I do
wrong, Signora Luisina?"

"Very wrong! Terribly wrong! Forgive me, but it looked as if you were
proposing some transaction, some bargain, and the Marchesa is sure to
believe we are in league with you! Oh, it is awful!"

She wrung her clenched hands as if striving to press into shape, to
remodel a more level professorial head for him. In utter amazement the
poor Professor kept repeating: "Oh, Lord! Oh, dear me! Oh, what an ass
I am!" without really comprehending the nature of his blunder. Luisa
flung herself upon the parapet overhanging the lake, and stared into the
water. Suddenly she started up, beating the back of her right hand upon
the palm of her left, her face brightening. "Take me to your study,"
said she. "Can I leave Maria here?" The Professor nodded, and,
trembling, accompanied her to the study. Luisa took a sheet of paper and
wrote rapidly: "Luisa Maironi Rigey begs to inform the Marchesa Maironi
Scremin that Professor Beniamino Gilardoni is a most faithful friend of
both her husband and herself, but that they nevertheless heartily
disapprove of his inopportune use of a document which should have been
disposed of in a different manner. Therefore, no communication from the
Marchesa is either expected or desired."

When she had finished she silently held out the letter to the Professor.
"Oh no!" he exclaimed, as soon as he had read it; "For the love of
Heaven don't send that letter! What if your husband should find it out?
Think what a misfortune for me, for you yourself! And how can it
possibly be kept from your husband?" Luisa did not answer, but gazed
fixedly at him, not thinking of him, but of Franco; thinking that the
Marchesa might look upon the letter as a snare, an attempt to intimidate
her, she took it back and tore it in pieces, with a sigh. The Professor
became radiant, and wished to kiss her hand, but she protested. She had
not done it for his sake or for Franco's but for other reasons. The
sacrifice of this outlet for her feelings exasperated her still more
against Franco. "He is wrong! He is wrong!" she repeated, with
bitterness in her heart, and neither she nor the Professor noticed that
Maria was in the room. On seeing her mother leave the garden the little
one no longer wished to remain with Pinella, so he had brought her to
the door of the study, opening it noiselessly for her. The child, struck
by her mother's expression, stopped and stared at her with a look of
terror. She saw her tear the letter and heard her exclaim: "He is
wrong!" and then she began to cry. Luisa hastened to her, folded her in
her arms, and consoled her, and then they immediately took their
departure. The Professor's parting words were: "For pity's sake, be
silent!"

"Why be silent?" Maria quickly demanded. Her mother did not heed her;
her thoughts were elsewhere. Three or four times Maria repeated: "Why be
silent?" until at last Luisa said: "Hush! That will do." Then she was
quiet for a time, but presently she began again, simply to tease her
mother, and lifting her little, laughing face repeated: "Why be silent?"
This time she was well scolded, and once more became silent; but when
they were passing below the cemetery, only a few steps from home, she
again burst forth, with the same mischievous laugh. Then Luisa, who had
been absorbed in the effort to compose her face into an expression of
indifference, simply gave her a shake, but it sufficed to silence her.

That day Maria was in very high spirits. At dinner, while jesting with
her mother, she suddenly recalled the reprimands she had received when
out walking, and looking covertly at Luisa, once more repeated her "Why
be silent?" with the same timid and provoking little laugh. Her mother
pretended not to hear, so she persevered. Then Luisa checked her with an
"Enough!" so unusually stern that Maria's little mouth opened wider and
wider, and the tears began to flow. Uncle Piero exclaimed: "Oh dear me!"
and Franco frowned, showing that he disapproved of his wife's action. As
Maria kept on crying, he vented his displeasure upon her, took her in
his arms, and carried her off, screaming like an eagle. "Better still!"
said Uncle Piero. "Fine disciplinarians, both of you!" "You let them
alone," said Cia, for Luisa did not speak. "Parents must be obeyed."
"That's it! Let us have your wisdom also!" Uncle Piero retorted, and Cia
relapsed into sullen silence.

Meanwhile Franco returned, having deposited Maria in one corner of the
alcove-room, grumbling something about people who seemed bound to make
children cry. And now Luisa also was vexed, and went to fetch Maria,
whom she presently brought back in a lachrymose but mute state. The
short meal ended badly, for Maria would not eat, and all the others were
out of temper for one reason or another; all save Uncle Piero, who set
about lecturing Maria, half seriously half playfully, until he succeeded
in bringing a little sunshine back to her face. After dinner Franco went
to look after some flower-pots, which he kept in the cellar below the
little hanging garden, and took Maria with him. Seeing her once more in
good spirits, he gently questioned her about what had happened. What did
she mean by that "Why be silent?" "I don't know." "But why did mamma not
wish you to say it?" "I don't know. I kept saying that, and mamma kept
scolding me." "When?" "Out walking." "Where did you go?" "To the Signor
Ladroni's." (It was Uncle Piero who had thus simplified the Professor's
name.) "And did you begin saying that when you were at Signor Ladroni's
house?" "No. Signor Ladroni said it to mamma." "What did he say?" "Why,
papa, you don't understand anything! He said: 'For pity's sake be
silent!'" Franco said no more. "Mamma tore a paper at Signor Ladroni's
house," Maria added, believing her father would be all the better
pleased the more she told him concerning that visit, but he ordered her
to be quiet. On returning to the house Franco asked Luisa, with an
expression that was far from amiable, why she had made the child cry.
Luisa scrutinised him closely. It seemed to her he suspected something,
and she asked indignantly if he expected her to seek to justify herself
for such petty matters. "Oh no!" Franco answered coldly, and went into
the garden to see if the dry leaves at the base of the orange-trees and
the straw around the trunks were in order, for the night promised to be
very cold. As he worked over the plants he reflected that had they
possessed intelligence and words they would have shown themselves more
affectionate, more grateful than usual, on account of his imminent
departure, while Luisa had the heart to be harsh with him. He did not
remember that he also had been harsh. Luisa, on the other hand, at once
regretted her answer, but she could not hold him back, throw her arms
about his neck, and end it all with a kiss or two; that other matter
weighed too heavily on her heart. Franco finished swathing his orange
trees and came into the house for his cape, intending to go to church at
Albogasio. Luisa, who was in the kitchen peeling some chestnuts, heard
him pass through the corridor, stood hesitating a moment, struggling
with herself, and then rushed out, catching up with him just as he was
starting downstairs.

"Franco!" said she. Franco did not answer, but seemed to repulse her.
Then she seized his arm and dragged him into the neighbouring alcove
room.

"What do you want?" said he, shaken, but still determined to appear
vexed. Luisa, instead of answering, threw her arms about his neck, drew
his unwilling head upon her breast, and said softly--

"We must not quarrel these last days."

He had expected words of excuse, and pushed his wife's arm aside,
answering dryly--

"I have not quarrelled. Perhaps you will tell me," he added, "what
Professor Gilardoni confided to you that was such a great secret that he
felt obliged to entreat you to be silent."

Luisa looked at him, amazed and pained. "You doubted me?" said she. "You
questioned the child? Did you indeed do that?"

"Well," he cried, "and what if I did? Anyway, I am well aware you always
think the worst of me. Listen now. I don't want to know anything." She
interrupted him. "But I will tell you! I will tell you!" His conscience
was pricking him a little on account of his questioning of the child,
and now seeing Luisa ready to speak, he would not listen to her, and
forbade her to explain. But his heart was full to overflowing with
bitterness, for which he must find an outlet. He complained that since
Christmas Eve she had not been the same to him. Why protest? He had seen
it clearly. Indeed, something else had long been clear to him. What? Oh,
something very natural! Perfectly natural! Was he, after all, worthy of
her love? Certainly not. He was only a poor useless creature, and
nothing more. Was it not natural that upon knowing him better she
should love him less? For surely she did love him less than at one time!

Luisa trembled, fearful that this might be true.

"No, Franco, no!" she cried, but her very dread of not saying the words
with proper conviction was sufficient to paralyze her voice. He had
expected a violent denial, and murmured terrified: "My God!" Then it was
her turn to be terrified, and she pressed him despairingly in her arms,
sobbing: "No, no, no!" By means of some magnetic current they understood
each other's every thought, and remained long united in a close embrace,
speaking in a mute, spasmodic effort of their whole being, complaining
one of the other, reproaching, passionately striving to draw together
again, revelling in the sharp and bitter delight of being, for the
moment, united by sheer force of will and of love, in spite of the
secret disunion of their ideas, of their natures; and all this without a
word, without a sound.

Franco once more started to go to church. He would not invite Luisa to
accompany him, hoping she would do so of her own free will, but she did
not, fearing he might not wish it.

       *       *       *       *       *

On the morning of the seventh of January, shortly after ten o'clock,
Uncle Piero sent for Franco.

The uncle was still in bed. He was in the habit of rising late, because
his room could not be heated, and for the sake of economy he did not
wish the fire in the little salon lighted too early. However, the cold
did not prevent his sitting up in bed and reading, half his chest and
both arms outside the covers.

"_Ciao!_ Good-morning!" said he, as Franco entered.

From the tone of his greeting, from the expression of the fine face,
serious in its kindliness, Franco understood that Uncle Piero was about
to say something unusual.

In fact, the uncle pointed to the chair beside his bed, and uttered the
most solemn of his exordiums--

"Sit you down!"

Franco sat down.

"So you are leaving to-morrow?"

"Yes, uncle."

"Good!"

It would seem that in uttering that "Good!" the uncle's heart came into
his mouth, for the word filled his cheeks, and came out full and
ringing.

"So far," the old man continued, "you have never heard me--let us
say--either approve or disapprove of your plan. Perhaps I did not feel
quite sure you would carry it out. But now----"

Franco stretched out both hands to him. "Now," Uncle Piero went on,
pressing those hands in his own, "seeing you are firm in your resolve, I
say to you: Your resolve is good. We are in need, go; work, work is a
great thing! May God help you to begin well, and then help you to
persevere, which is a far more difficult thing. There!"

Franco would have kissed his hands, but he was quick to withdraw them.
"Let them alone! Let them alone!" And he once more began to speak.

"Now listen. It is quite possible we may never meet again." Franco
protested. "Yes, yes, yes!" the old man exclaimed, withdrawing his soul
from his eyes and voice. "Those are all fine things, things that must be
said. But let them go!"

The eyes once more resumed their kindly and serious light, and the voice
its grave tone.

"It is quite possible we shall never meet again. After all, I put it to
you, what good am I now in this world? It would be far better for you if
I took my departure. Perhaps your grandmother resents my having taken
you in; perhaps, if I were gone, it would be easier for her to accept a
reconciliation. Therefore, supposing we never meet again, I beg you to
make some overtures to her as soon as I am dead, if things have not
already been arranged."

Franco rose and embraced his uncle with tears in his eyes.

"I have made no will," Uncle Piero continued, "and I shall not make one.
What little I have belongs to Luisa; no will is necessary. I commend Cia
to your care. Do not let her want for a bed and a crust of bread. As to
my funeral, three priests will suffice to sing my _requiem_ with true
feeling; our own priest, Intrioni, and the Prefect of Caravina. There is
no necessity of having five, who will sing it for love of the candles
and the white wine. Leave the question of my clothes to Luisa, she will
know what to do with them. You yourself will keep my repeater to remind
you of me. I should like to leave Maria a keepsake, but what shall it
be? I might give her a piece of my gold chain. If you have a little
medallion or a crucifix you may attach it to my chain and hang it round
her neck. And now, Amen!"

Franco was in tears. It was a great shock to hear the uncle speak of his
death thus calmly, as if it had been some matter of business which must
be arranged judiciously and honestly; the uncle who, when conversing
with his friends, seemed so deeply attached to life that he would often
say: "If one could only avoid that inevitable breakdown!!"

"Ah! Now tell me," said Uncle Piero, "what sort of work do you expect to
find?"

"T. writes that at first I am to go into a newspaper office in Turin.
Perhaps I shall find something better later on. If I don't earn enough
to live on in the office, and nothing else turns up, I shall come back.
Therefore all this must be kept perfectly secret--at least, for a time."

Uncle Piero was incredulous concerning the possibility of secrecy. "And
how about the letters?" he inquired.

As to letters, it had been arranged that Franco should address his to
the postoffice at Lugano, and Ismaele would take those from the family
to Lugano, and bring back his. And what should they tell their friends?
They had already said that Franco was going to Milan, on the eighth, on
business, and would be absent perhaps a month, perhaps longer.

"It is not the most agreeable thing in the world to have to throw dust
in people's eyes," the uncle said. "But however...! I am going to
embrace you now, Franco, for I know you are leaving early to-morrow
morning, and we shall hardly be alone together to-day. Good-bye, then.
Once more, remember all my injunctions, and don't forget me. Oh, one
thing more! You are going to Turin. As a government official I always
did what I could to be of service to my country. I never conspired, and
I would not conspire even now, but I have always loved my country. And
so, salute the tricolour for me. Good-bye, my dear boy!"

Then Uncle Piero opened his arms.

"You shall come to Piedmont also, uncle," Franco said, as he rose from
that embrace, greatly moved. "If I can only manage to earn money enough
I shall send for you all."

"Ah no, my dear boy! I am too old, I shall not make another move."

"Very well, then. I myself will come next spring, with two hundred
thousand of my friends."

"That's it! Two hundred thousand pumpkins! A fine idea! Fine hopes!--Oh!
here is Signorina Missipipì."

Signorina Missipipì--thus the family called Maria in happy moments--came
in, dignified and serious. "Good-morning, uncle. Will you say
'Missipipì' for me?"

Her father lifted her up and placed her on Uncle Piero's bed. Smiling
the old man drew her towards him, and set her across his legs.

"Come here, miss. Did you sleep well? And did the doll sleep well, and
the mule also? The mule was not there? So much the better. Yes, yes! I
am coming to 'Missipipì.' Am I not to have a kiss first? Only one? Then
I shall have to say:

    Proud shade of the river
    Of Missipipì,
    Don't play you are bashful,
    But of kisses give three."

Maria listened as if hearing the lines for the first time, then she
burst out laughing, and began to jump and clap her hands, while her
uncle laughed with her.

"Papa," said she, suddenly becoming serious. "Why are you crying? Have
you been naughty?"

       *       *       *       *       *

They expected many friends would call that day, many who had promised to
come and say good-bye to Franco before his departure for Milan. Luisa
performed the miracle of lighting the stove in Siberia, as Uncle Piero
called the hall, and at one time Donna Ester, the two Pauls from Loggio,
Paolin and Paolon, and Professor Gilardoni were all there together. Then
presently Signora Peppina arrived, most unexpectedly, for she had never
been to see them since the search. "Oh, my dear _Süra_ Luisa! Oh, my
dear Don Franco! Is it true you are really going away?" Paolin began to
shift uneasily on his chair, for he feared Signora Peppina had been sent
by her husband to see who had and who had not rallied round the
suspected man, in this house that was under the ban. He longed to go
away at once with his Paolon, but Paolon was more dense. "How shall I
manage now, with this idiot, who doesn't understand anything?" thought
Paolin, and without looking at Paolon he said to him, in an undertone:
"Let us go, _Paol_, let us go!" It did indeed take Paolon some time to
get it through his head, but finally he arose and went out with Paolin,
getting his lesson on the stairs.

Franco had the same thought as Paolin, and greeted Signora Peppina
coldly. The poor woman could have wept, for she dearly loved his wife,
and held Franco himself in great esteem, but she understood his
aversion, and in her heart excused it. Franco was relieved when Veronica
came to call him.

He was wanted in the kitchen garden. He went there and found Signor
Giacomo Puttini and Don Giuseppe Costabarbieri, who had come to say
good-bye, but having been informed by Paolin and Paolon of the presence
of Signora Peppina, they did not wish her to see them. Even the soil of
the kitchen-garden scorched their feet. While the little lean hero was
puffing and parrying Franco's invitation to go up to the house, the
little fat hero was rolling his head and his small eyes like a
good-natured blackbird, looking from the hills to the lake, almost from
a habit of suspicion. He caught sight of a boat coming from Porlezza.
Who knows? Might it not be bringing the Imperial and Royal Commissary?
Although the boat was still at some distance, he immediately began to
cast about for an excuse for going away, and determined to take Puttini
to call upon the Receiver, as they would be sure of not finding Signora
Peppina at home.

Having lavished many hasty and muttered compliments on Franco, the two
old hares trotted off, with bowed heads, leaving Franco in the
kitchen-garden. Meanwhile the boat Don Giuseppe had seen had come
rapidly forward, and was now passing in front of the garden, at some
distance from the shore. It contained a lady and a gentleman. The
gentleman rose and saluted Franco in a loud voice: "How are you, Don
Franco? Long life to you!" The lady waved her handkerchief. The
Pasottis! Franco saluted with his hat.

The Pasottis in Valsolda in January! Why had they come? And that
greeting! Pasotti salute him thus? Pasotti, who had never been near them
since the search? What did all this mean? Franco, greatly perplexed,
went up to the house and told the news. All were amazed, and most of all
Signora Peppina. "How? Do you really mean it? The Signor Controller of
all men! And Signora Barborin also, poor little woman!" The event was
excitedly discussed. Some thought one thing, some another. In about five
minutes Pasotti came noisily in, dragging Signora Barborin behind him.
She was laden with shawls and bundles and half dead with the cold. The
poor creature could only keep repeating: "Two hours in the boat! Two
hours in the boat!"

"Whatever brought you to Valsolda in this weather, _Süra_ Pasotti?"
Peppina screamed at her. "Oh, gracious! She don't understand anything,
poor little woman!" And though Luisa and Ester shouted the same question
in her ear, and though she opened her mouth wide, the poor deaf woman
could not understand, and continued to answer at random: "Have I had my
dinner? If I will dine here?" At last Pasotti came to the rescue, and
told them that he and his wife had been called away by urgent business
in October, and the last washing had been left undone. His wife had been
worrying him for some time about that blessed washing, and finally he
had made up his mind to satisfy her by coming. Then Donna Ester turned
to Signora Pasotti, going through the pantomime of washing.

Barborin glanced at her husband, who had his eyes fixed upon her, and
answered: "Yes, yes. The washing! The washing!" That glance, the order
she read in the Controller's eyes, made Luisa suspect a mystery
underlying all this. This mystery and the inexplicable effusiveness of
Pasotti suggested another suspicion to her. What if they had come on her
account and Franco's? What if the Professor's trip to Lodi had something
to do with bringing about this unexpected visit? She would have liked to
consult the Professor and beg him to remain until the Pasottis had left,
but then, how could she speak to him without Franco's noticing it?
Meanwhile Donna Ester was saying good-bye, and Gilardoni was graciously
permitted to escort her home.

The Pasottis could not go up to Albogasio Superiore until the farmer,
who had been notified at once, should have had time to prepare and heat
at least one room for their reception. The Controller at once proposed a
three-handed game of _tarocchi_ with the Engineer and Franco. Then
Signora Peppina went away, and Barborin asked Luisa to allow her to
withdraw for a few minutes, and begged her hostess to accompany her. As
soon as he was alone with her friend in the alcove room, she glanced all
about her with wide, frightened eyes, and then whispered: "We are not
here on account of the washing, you know. Not on account of the
washing!" Luisa questioned her silently with face and gestures, for had
she spoken in a loud voice they would have heard her in the hall. This
time Signora Pasotti understood, and replied that she did not know
anything, that her husband had not told her anything, that he had
ordered her to corroborate the story about the washing, but that really
she was not in the least anxious about it. Then Luisa took a piece of
paper and wrote: "What do you suspect?" Signora Pasotti read the words,
and then began a most complicated pantomime: shakings of the head,
rollings of the eyes, sighs, imploring glances towards the ceiling. It
was as if a mighty struggle were going on within her between hope and
fear. At last she uttered an "Ah?" seized the pen, and wrote below
Luisa's question:

"The Marchesa!"

Then she dropped the pen and stood looking at her friend. "She is at
Lodi," she said in an undertone. "The Controller has been to Lodi. So
there you have it!" And she hastened back to the hall, faring to arouse
her husband's suspicions.

The game over, Pasotti went to one of the windows, saying something in a
loud voice about the effect of the twilight, and called Franco to him.
"You must come and see me this evening," he said softly. "I have
something to say to you." Franco sought to excuse himself. He was
starting the next morning for Milan, leaving his family for some time;
he could hardly spend this last evening away from home. Pasotti answered
that it was absolutely necessary. "It concerns your journey to-morrow!"
said he.

       *       *       *       *       *

"It concerns your journey to-morrow!" As soon as the Pasottis had left
for Albogasio Superiore, Franco repeated the conversation to his wife.
He had been much upset by it. So Pasotti knew! He would not have been so
mysterious had he not been alluding to the journey to Turin, and Franco
was greatly vexed to think that Pasotti was aware of this. But how had
he found out? Perhaps the friend in Turin had been indiscreet. And now
what did Pasotti want of him? Was another blow perhaps about to be
struck by the police? But Pasotti was not the man to come and warn him.
And all that hypocritical amiability? Perhaps they did not wish him to
go to Turin, did not wish him to find an easier path, to free himself
and his family from poverty, from commissaries and gendarmes. He thought
and thought, and finally decided this must be the reason. In her heart
Luisa greatly doubted it. She feared something else; but she also was
persuaded Pasotti knew about Turin, and this upset all her suppositions.
After all, the only way was to go and find out.

       *       *       *       *       *

Franco went at eight o'clock and Pasotti received him with the most
effusive cordiality, and apologised for his wife's absence, she having
already gone to bed. Before opening the conversation he insisted that
Franco should take a glass of S. Colombano, and a piece of _panettone_.
With the wine and the cake Franco was obliged to swallow, much against
his will, many declarations of friendship, and the most exalted eulogies
upon his wife, his uncle, and himself. The glass and the plate being at
last empty, the mellifluous rogue showed himself disposed to come to
business.

They were seated facing each other at a small table. Pasotti, leaning
back comfortably in his chair, held a red and yellow silk handkerchief
in his hands, with which he played constantly.

"Well," said he, "as I told you, my dear Franco, the matter concerns
your journey to-morrow. I heard it said to-day at your house that you
are going away on business. Now it remains to be seen whether I am not
bringing you still more important business than that which calls you to
Milan."

Franco remained silent, surprised by this unexpected preamble. Pasotti
continued, his eyes fixed on the handkerchief which he never ceased
handling.

"Of course, my good friend Don Franco Maironi knows that if I touch upon
intimate and delicate questions it is because I have a serious reason
for doing so; because I feel it my duty, and because I am authorised to
do so."

The hands became still, the shining and cunning eyes were raised to
Franco's distrustful and troubled eyes.

"It concerns both your present and your future, my dear Franco."

Having uttered these words, Pasotti resolutely laid aside the
handkerchief. Resting his arms and his clasped hands on the little
table, he went to the heart of the matter, keeping his eyes fixed upon
Franco, who now, in his turn, leaning back in his chair, returned the
gaze, his face pale, his attitude one of hostile defiance.

"You must know that the old friendship I bear your family has long been
urging me to do something to put an end to a most painful quarrel. Your
good father, Don Alessandro!--What a heart of gold!--How fond he was of
me!" (Franco was aware that his father had once threatened Pasotti with
his cane, for meddling overmuch in his family affairs.) "Never mind!
Having learned that your grandmother was at Lodi, I said to myself last
Sunday: After all the trouble the Maironis have had, perhaps this is the
right moment. Let us go and make the attempt. And I went."

There was a pause. Franco was quivering. What a mediator he had had! And
who had asked for mediation?

"I must tell you," Pasotti went on, "that I feel satisfied. Your
grandmother has her own opinions, and she has reached an age when
opinions are not easily changed; you know her character; she is very
firm, but after all, she is not heartless. She loves you, you know, and
she suffers. There is a continuous struggle going on within her, between
her sentiments and her principles; or, one might rather say, between her
sentiments and her resentment. Poor Marchesa, it is painful to see how
she suffers! But anyhow she is beginning to yield. Of course we must not
expect too much. She is indeed yielding, but not sufficiently to break
what sustains her--her principles I mean, especially her political
principles."

Franco's eyes, his twitching jaws, a quivering of his whole person said
to Pasotti: "Woe to you if you touch upon that point!" Pasotti stopped.
Perhaps he was thinking of the cane of the late Don Alessandro.

"I understand your feelings," he continued. "Do you think I don't? I eat
the government's bread, and must keep what I feel shut up in my heart,
but, nevertheless, I am with you. I sigh for the moment when certain
colours shall replace certain others. But your grandmother holds
different opinions, and there is nothing for it but to take her as she
is. If we want to arrive at an understanding we must take her as she is.
You may seek to oppose her as I myself did, but----"

"All this talk appears to me perfectly useless," Franco exclaimed,
rising.

"Wait!" Pasotti added. "The affair may not prove as disagreeable as you
think! Sit down and listen."

But Franco would not hear of resuming his seat.

"Out with it, then!" said he, his voice ringing impatiently.

"First of all your grandmother is prepared to recognise your
marriage----"

"How kind!" Franco put in.

"Wait!----and to make you a suitable allowance: from what I heard I
should think of from six to eight thousand _svanziche_ a year. Not bad,
eh?"

"Go on."

"Be patient! There is nothing humiliating in all this. Had there been a
single humiliating condition I should not have mentioned the matter to
you. Your grandmother wishes you to have an occupation, and also desires
that you give a certain guarantee not to take part in political doings.
Now there is a decorous way of combining these two points, as you
yourself will be obliged to recognise, although I tell you plainly that
I had proposed a different course to your grandmother. My idea was that
she should place you at the head of her affairs. You would have had
enough to do to keep you from thinking of anything else. However, your
grandmother's idea is good also. I know fine young fellows like
yourself, who think as you do, and who are in the judicial service. It
is a most independent and respectable calling. A word from you and you
will find yourself an auditor of the court."

"I?" Franco burst out. "I? No, my dear Pasotti! No! They don't send the
police into my house--be quiet!--they don't brutally dismiss from
service an honest man, whose only crime is that he is my wife's
uncle,--be quiet, I tell you!--they don't seek every possible means of
reducing my family and myself to the verge of starvation to-day, that
they may offer us filthy bread to-morrow! No, my man, no! Do your worst!
By God! I am not to be trapped by any one through hunger! Tell my
grandmother so, you----you----you----"

Pasotti's nature certainly had much that was feline; he was rapacious,
cunning, prudent, a flatterer, quick to feign, but also subject to fits
of rage. He had continued to interrupt Maironi's outpouring with
protests which became ever more violent, and at this last invective,
forseeing the approach of a deluge of accusations which were all the
more exasperating because he could guess their character, he also
started to his feet.

"Stop!" said he. "What do you mean by all this?"

"Good-night!" cried Franco, who had seized his hat. But Pasotti had no
intention of letting him go thus. "One moment!" said he, bringing his
fist down swiftly and repeatedly on the little table. "You people are
deluding yourselves! You hope great things from that will; but it is not
a will at all, it is simply a bit of waste paper, the ravings of a
madman!"

Franco, who had already reached the door, stopped short, stunned by the
blow. "What will?" said he.

"Come now!" Pasotti retorted, half coldly, half mockingly. "We
understand each other perfectly!"

A flash of rage once more set Franco's blood on fire. "We do not!" he
cried. "Out with it! Speak! What do you know of any will?"

"Ah! Now we are getting on famously!" Pasotti said with ironical
sweetness.

Franco could have strangled him.

"Didn't I tell you I have been to Lodi? So of course I know!"

Franco, quite beside himself, protested that he was entirely in the
dark.

"Of course," Pasotti continued, with greater irony than before. "It is
for me to enlighten the gentleman! Then I will inform you that Professor
Gilardoni, who is by no means the friend you believe him to be, went to
Lodi at the end of December, and presented himself before the Marchesa
with a legally worthless copy of a will which he pretends was made by
your late grandfather. This will appoints you, Don Franco, residuary
legatee, in terms attrociously insulting to both the wife and the son of
the testator. So now you know. Indeed, Signor Gilardoni did not betray
his trust, but stated that he had come on his own responsibility, and
without your knowledge."

Franco listened, as pale as death, feeling darkness creeping over his
sight and his soul, mustering all his strength that he might not lose
his head, but be able to give a fitting answer.

"You are right," said he. "Grandmother is right also. It is Professor
Gilardoni who has done wrong. He showed me that will three years ago, on
the night of my marriage. I told him to burn it, and believed he had
done so. If he did not, he deceived me. If he really went to Lodi on the
charming errand you describe, he has committed an act of outrageous
indelicacy and stupidity. You were quite justified in thinking ill of
us. But mark this! I despise my grandmother's money as heartily as I
despise the money of the government, and as this lady has the good
fortune to be the mother of my father, I will never--never, I
say--although she resort to the most base, the most perfidious means of
ruining me--never make use of a document that dishonours her. I am too
much her superior! Go and tell her this in my name, and tell her also to
withdraw her offers, for I spurn them! Good-night!!"

He left Pasotti in a state of utter amazement, and went his way,
trembling with over-excitement and rage. He forgot his lantern, and went
down the hill in the dark, striding along, neither knowing nor caring
where he placed his feet, and from time to time uttering an ejaculation,
pouring out that which was seething within him--rage against Gilardoni,
and accusations against Luisa!

       *       *       *       *       *

Uncle Piero had gone to bed early, and Luisa was waiting for Franco in
the little salon with Maria, whom she had kept up that her father might
see something of her this last night. Poor little Signorina Missipipì
had very soon grown weary, and had begun to open wide her little mouth,
and assume a tearful expression, asking in a small and pitiful voice:
"When is papa coming?" But she possessed a mamma who was unrivalled in
consoling the afflicted. Now it was some time since Signorina Missipipì
had owned a pair of whole little shoes: and little shoes, even in
Valsolda, cost money. Not much money, it is true, but what is to be done
when you have hardly any? However, this unique mamma was also unrivalled
in shoeing those who were shoeless. The very day before, Luisa, in
searching for a piece of rope in the attic, had found a boot which had
belonged to her grandfather, buried beneath a heap of rubbish, of empty
boxes and broken chairs. She had put it in water to soften, and had
borrowed a shoemaker's knife, an awl, and shears. She now took the
venerable boot, that frightened Maria, and placed it on the table. "Now
we will recite its funeral oration," said she, with that liveliness she
could assume at will, and of which even mortal anguish could not rob
her, if she deemed it necessary to be lively. "But first you must ask
your great-grandfather's permission to take his boot." She made Maria
clasp her hands, and recite the following jingle, her eyes comically
raised to the ceiling.

    Great granddad of mine
    Who to heav'n did climb,
    This boot, to you useless
    Pray give to this princess,
    Who longs in vain
    For slippers twain,
    And throws you a kiss,
    The pert little Miss,
    Which she begs you to put
    On the sole of your foot.

Then followed a somewhat irreverent fancy, one of many such born in
Luisa's brain--a strange story of the little angel who polishes the
boots in heaven, and who one day let great-grandfather's boot fall to
the earth while attempting to grab a bit of golden bread he had been
forbidden to touch. Maria brightened visibly; she laughed and
interrupted her mother with a hundred questions concerning the other
boot that was still in heaven. What would her great-grandfather do with
that? Her mother replied that he would apply it from behind to the
Emperor of Austria, and push him out of heaven with it, if he chanced to
meet him there.

Just at that moment Franco entered.

Luisa at once saw signs of storm on his brow and in his eyes.

"Well?" she questioned. Franco answered shortly: "Put Maria to bed."

Luisa observed that she had kept the child up waiting for him, that she
might spend a little time with him. "I tell you to put her to bed!"
Franco said, so harshly that Maria began to cry. Luisa flushed, but was
silent. Lighting a candle she took the child in her arms and silently
held her up that her father might give her a kiss. He did so coldly, and
then Luisa carried her away. Franco did not follow her. The sight of the
boot irritated him, and he threw it upon the floor. Then he sat down,
planted his elbows on the table, and rested his head in his hands.

The bitter thought that Luisa was Gilardoni's accomplice had immediately
flashed into his mind while Pasotti was talking, and with it there came
also the recollection of that "Why be silent?" of that "Enough!" and of
the child's story. He felt as if he had a whirlwind within him, in which
this idea was being continually caught up and whirled away, to reappear
again farther down, ever nearer the heart.

"Well?" Luisa once more asked, as she entered the room. Franco looked at
her a moment in silence, scrutinising her closely. Then he rose and
seized her hands. "Tell me if you know anything?" said he. She guessed
his meaning, but that look and manner offended her. "What do you mean?"
she exclaimed, her face aflame. "Why do you ask in that way?" "Ah! you
do know!" cried Franco flinging away her hands, and raising his arms
with a despairing gesture.

She foresaw what was coming--his suspicion of her complicity with
Gilardoni, her denial, and the mortal irremediable offence Franco would
be offering her if, in his wrath, he refused to trust her word, and she
clasped her hands in terror. "No, Franco! No, Franco!" she murmured
softly, and threw her arms about his neck, striving to close his lips
with kisses. But he misunderstood her, believed she was seeking
forgiveness, and pushed her aside. "I know! Yes, I know!" she cried,
once more casting herself passionately upon his breast. "But I found out
afterwards, when it was already done, and I was as indignant as you are,
even more indignant!" But Franco was too anxious to give vent to his
feelings, too anxious to offend. "How can I know you are speaking the
truth?" he exclaimed. She started back with a cry, and then once more
coming a step nearer, she held out her arms to him. "No, no!" she
entreated in agony, "Tell me you believe me! Tell me so now, for if you
do not say so, you don't know, you can't realise what will happen!"

"What is it I can't realise?"

"You don't know me as I am, for though I may love you still, I can never
again be a wife to you, and though I may suffer deeply, I shall never
change, never again. Do you realise what that means, _never again_?"

He drew her slender, trembling figure towards him, pressed her hands as
if to crush them, and said, in a stifled voice: "I will believe you!
Indeed I will believe you!" But Luisa, gazing at him through her tears,
was not satisfied. "I _will_ believe you?" she said. "I _will_ believe
you?"

"I do believe you, I do believe you!"

Indeed he did believe her; but where there is anger there is always
pride as well. He did not wish to surrender entirely, and at once, and
his tone was rather condescending than convinced. Both were silent,
holding each other's hands, and then with a slow, almost imperceptible
movement they began to draw apart. It was Luisa who at last gently drew
away completely. She felt this silence must be broken; he could find no
glowing words, and cold words she would not speak, so she began to tell
him how she had heard of the unfortunate journey to Lodi from Gilardoni
himself. Seated at the table opposite her husband, she spoke in a calm
voice that was not precisely cold, but rather grieved. While she was
relating the Professor's disclosures Franco again took fire, and often
interrupted her. "And did you not say that to him?--And did you not say
this to him?--Did you tell him he was a fool?--Did you not call him an
ass?" At first Luisa ignored these exclamations, but finally she
protested. She had already said that Gilardoni's blunder had filled her
with indignation, but now it would almost seem as if her husband doubted
this. Franco was reduced to unwilling silence.

Her story finished, he once more stormed against that blockhead of a
philosopher, and Luisa was moved to take his part. After all he was
their friend; he had indeed made a terrible mistake, but with the best
of intentions. Where were all Franco's maxims about charity, and
forgiving injuries, if he was not willing to forgive one whose only wish
had been to benefit him? And here thoughts came to her which she did not
utter. She reflected that Franco was ready enough to forgive great
things when there was glory and sometimes even folly in forgiving, while
he would not now forgive a slight offence when there were the best of
reasons for doing so. When she spoke of charity Franco became
exasperated; he did not venture to say he felt he did not deserve a
similar attack, but returned the blow somewhat roughly. "Ah! Indeed!" he
exclaimed, with a reticence that was full of insinuations. "So you
defend him! Oh, of course!"

Luisa's shoulders twitched nervously, but she held her peace.

"And why did you not speak!" Franco continued. "Why did you not tell me
everything at once?"

"Because when I reproached Gilardoni he entreated me not to tell.
Besides, I thought--and I was perfectly correct--that the thing being
done, it was useless to cause you such great annoyance. The last day of
the year, when you were so angry, I wished to tell you, to relate all
Gilardoni had confided to me. Do you remember? But you absolutely
refused to listen. I did not insist, especially as Gilardoni had told
your grandmother we knew nothing about the matter."

"She did not believe him. Naturally!"

"And what good would it have done if I had spoken? As it is, Pasotti
must have seen plainly that you knew nothing."

Franco did not answer. Then Luisa asked him to repeat the conversation
to her, and she listened to his recital with breathless attention. She
guessed, her intuition sharpened by hatred, that if Franco had accepted
the proffered position, a further condition would have been imposed:
separation from her uncle, from an official who had been dismissed from
service for political reasons. "Certainly," she said, "she would have
demanded this also. _Canaille!_" Her husband started, as if he also had
been cut to the quick by that lash. "Steady," said he. "Be careful of
your expressions! In the first place, that is only a supposition of
yours, and then----"

"Only a supposition? And how about the rest? How about the cowardly
action she proposed to you?"

Franco, who had answered Pasotti with such violence, now answered his
wife weakly.

"Yes, yes, yes! But after all----"

It was her turn to be violent now. The idea that his grandmother should
dare propose that they forsake the uncle drove her nearly out of her
mind. "You will at least acknowledge this," she cried, "that she
deserves no mercy? My God! And to think that will still exists!"

"Oh!" Franco exclaimed. "Are we to begin over again?"

"_Let us begin over again!_ Have you any right to demand that I shall
neither think nor feel save in such a way as is pleasing to you? Did I
obey you I should be cowardly, I should deserve to become a slave. And I
will be neither cowardly nor a slave!"

The rebel he had suspected, even felt at times lurking behind the loving
woman, the creature possessed of an intellect intensely proud, and
stronger than love, whom he had never succeeded in conquering
completely, now stood before him, quivering in the consciousness of her
rebellion.

"Well, well!" said Franco, as if speaking to himself, "so you would be
cowardly, would be a slave? Do you at least reflect that I am going away
to-morrow?"

"Do not go! Stay here! Carry out your grandfather's wishes. Remember
what you told me concerning the origin of the Maironi wealth. Give it
all back to the Ospitale Maggiore. See that justice is done!"

"No," Franco retorted. "These are idle dreams. The end does not justify
the means. The real end with you is to strike my grandmother. This talk
of the Ospitale is simply a means of justifying the blow. No, I will
never make use of that will. I declared as much to Pasotti, in such
strong language that should I ever change, I should deserve to be spit
upon. I shall certainly leave to-morrow."

A long silence followed, then the dialogue was once more resumed, but
the two voices were cold and sad as if now some dead thing lay in the
heart of either.

"Do you realise," said Franco, "that I should be dishonouring my own
father?"

"In what way?"

"In the first place by the outrageous nature of the terms in which the
document is couched, and then by implying my father's complicity in the
suppression of the will. But then you don't understand these matters.
And, after all, what do you care?"

"But there is no need to speak of suppression. It is quite possible the
will was never found."

Another silence. Even the tallow candle that was burning on the table
had a lugubrious look. Luisa rose, picked up the great-grandfather's
boot, and prepared to begin her work. Franco went to the window and
pressed his forehead against the glass. He remained there some time,
absorbed in contemplation of the shadows of night. Presently he said
softly, without turning his head:

"Never, never has your soul been wholly mine."

No answer.

Then he faced about and asked his wife in a tone entirely free from
anger, and with that ineffable gentleness which was his in moments of
moral or physical depression, if, since the very beginning of their
union, he had ever failed her in any way. An almost inaudible "No" was
the answer.

"Then perhaps you did not love me as I believed?"

"No, no, no!"

Franco was not sure he had understood correctly, and repeated:

"You did not love me?"

"Yes, yes! So dearly!"

His spirits began to revive, and a shade of severity returned to his
voice.

"Then," said he, "why did you not give me your whole soul?"

She was silent. She had been trying in vain to resume her work, but her
hands trembled.

And now this terrible question! Should she answer or not? By answering,
by revealing for the first time things that lay buried at the bottom of
her heart, she would only be widening the painful gap between them; but
could she be dishonest? She was silent so long that at last Franco said:
"You will not speak?" Then she mustered all her strength and spoke.

"It is true, my soul has never been wholly yours." She trembled as she
spoke the words, and Franco held his breath.

"I have always felt myself different from you, separated from you,"
Luisa continued, "in that sentiment which should govern all others. You
hold the religious views my mother held. Religion was to my mother, as
it is to you, a union of certain beliefs, ceremonies, and precepts,
inspired and governed by the love of God. I have always shrunk from this
conception of religion; no matter how hard I may have tried, I have
never been able to feel this love of an invisible and incomprehensible
Being; I have never been able to understand what good could come of
forcing my reason to accept things I do not understand. Nevertheless I
felt an ardent longing to direct my life towards what was good,
according to a disinterested ideal. Moreover, by her words and example
my mother had embued me with such a strong sense of my duty towards God
and the Church, that my doubts caused me great pain, and I struggled
hard against them. My mother was a saint. Every act of her life was in
harmony with her faith. This also influenced me strongly. And then I
knew that the greatest sorrow of her life had been my father's unbelief.
I met you, loved you, married you, and I was strengthened in my resolve
to become as you are in matters of religion, because I believed you were
as my mother was. Then, little by little, I discovered you are not like
my mother. Shall I go on?"

"Yes, to the end!"

"I discovered you were kindness itself, that you had the warmest, most
generous heart in the world, but that your faith and your religious
practices rendered these treasures almost useless. You did not strive!
You were satisfied to love me, the child, Italy, your flowers, your
music, the beauty of the lake and the mountains. In this you followed
your heart. As to a higher ideal, it was sufficient for you to believe
and to pray. Without this faith and without these prayers you would have
given the fire that is in your soul to that which is surely true, which
is surely just in this world, you would have felt the same need to be
doing that I feel. You are well aware, are you not, what I could have
wished you to be in certain things? For example, who feels patriotism
more keenly than you do? Surely no one. Well, I could have wished to see
you endeavour to serve your country seriously, and according to your
strength. Now you are indeed going to Piedmont, but your principal
reason for doing so is that we have hardly anything left to live upon."

Franco, frowning angrily, made an impatient gesture of protest. "If you
wish it I will stop," Luisa said humbly.

"No, no. Go on! Let us have the whole of it! It will be better!"

He spoke so excitedly, so angrily, that Luisa was silent, and it was
only after a second, "Go on!" that she continued.

"Without going to Piedmont there would have been enough to do here in
Valsolda, in Val Porlezza, in Vall' Intelvi; what V. does on the Lake of
Como, communicating with different people, keeping the right spirit
alive, preparing all that must be prepared against the coming of war,
if, indeed, it ever comes. I used to tell you so, but you would not be
convinced, you saw so many difficulties in the way. This sluggishness
fostered my repugnance to your conception of religion, and my tendency
towards another conception. For I also felt myself intensely religious.
The conception of religion which was gradually shaping itself clearly in
my mind was, in substance, as follows: God really exists, and is
powerful and wise as you believe, but He is perfectly indifferent to our
adoration of Him, and prayers to Him. What He demands of us is what we
may learn from the heart he has formed for each one of us, from the
conscience He has given us, from the surroundings in which He has placed
us. He wishes us to love all that is good, to hate all that is evil, to
labour with all our strength, according to this love and this hatred,
and to occupy ourselves exclusively with the things of this world, with
things we can comprehend, that can be felt! Now you will understand what
my idea really is of my duty, of our duty, in the face of all injustice,
all tyranny!"

The further she went in this definition, this exposure of her own views,
the greater was the relief she experienced in so doing, in being
perfectly sincere at last, in frankly taking her stand on her own firm
ground, and gradually all indignation against her husband died down
within her, and in her heart there arose a tender pity for him.

"Indeed," she added, "if it had been only this trouble about your
grandmother, do you think I would not rather have sacrificed my own
opinion a thousand times, rather than grieve you? There was something
else underlying that. Now you know all. Now I have laid my bare soul in
your hands."

She read dull pain and hostile coldness on her husband's brow. She rose
and moved towards him very slowly, with clasped hands, gazing at him,
seeking his eyes, which avoided hers, and then halted on the way,
repulsed by some higher power, for he had neither spoken nor made a
gesture.

"Franco!" she entreated, "can you no longer love me?"

He did not answer.

"Franco! Franco!" she cried, stretching out her clasped hands. Then she
started to move forward. He drew back with a rapid movement. Thus they
stood in silence, face to face, for half a minute that seemed an
eternity.

Franco's lips were pressed tight together, and she could hear his quick
breathing. It was he who broke the silence.

"What you have said is exactly what you feel?"

"Yes!"

His hands were clutching the back of a chair. He shook it violently,
saying bitterly: "Enough!" Luisa looked at him with inexpressible
sadness, and murmured: "Enough?" He answered angrily, "Enough, enough,
enough!" After a moment's silence he went on harshly: "I may be
indolent, sluggish, selfish, anything you like, but I am not a boy to be
soothed by a couple of caresses after all you have said to me. Enough, I
tell you!"

"Oh, Franco! I know I have hurt you, but it has cost me so much, having
to hurt you! Can't you take me kindly?"

"Ah, take you kindly, indeed! You wish to be free to inflict any wound,
and then expect to be taken kindly! You are superior to every one else!
You judge, you pass sentence, you alone understand what God wishes and
what He does not wish? But this at least I will not have! Say whatever
you like about me, but let those things you do not understand alone. You
had better be working on your boot!"

He was determined to see only pride in his wife, while his own anger was
born almost wholly of pride, of outraged self-esteem; it was an impure
anger which darkened his brain and his heart. Both husband and wife
would have acknowledged the justice of any other accusation sooner than
that of pride.

She silently resumed her seat and tried to resume her work as well, but
she handled the tools nervously without really knowing what she was
doing. Franco went into the hall, banging the door behind him.

It was very cold in the darkness of the hall which had been unoccupied
since five o'clock, but Franco did not notice this. He threw himself
upon the sofa, giving himself up entirely to his grief, to his anger, to
an easy and violent mental defence of himself against his wife. As Luisa
had rebelled against God and against himself--though indeed she had made
a distinction--he now found it convenient to make common cause in his
heart with that other mute and terrible One whom she had offended. At
first astonishment, bitterness, rage, good reasons and bad, formed a
whirling tempest in his brain. Then he found relief for his feelings in
imagining Luisa's repentance, her prayers for forgiveness, and his own
magnanimous answers.

Suddenly he heard Maria screaming and crying. He rose to go and see what
had happened, but he was without a light. He waited a moment thinking
Luisa would go out, but he did not hear her move, and the child was
screaming louder than ever. Very softly he went towards the parlour, and
looked in through the glass door.

Luisa had hidden her face in her arms, which were crossed on the table,
and the light of the candle revealed only her beautiful dark hair.
Franco felt his anger cooling, he opened the door, and called softly,
his tone still gently severe: "Luisa, Maria is crying." Luisa raised her
face, which was very pale, took the candle and went out without a word.
Her husband followed her. They found the child sitting up in bed bathed
in tears; a dream had frightened her. When she saw her father she
stretched out her arms to him. "Not go away, papa, not go away!" she
entreated, her voice big with tears. Franco pressed her in his arms,
covered her with kisses, soothed her, and then put her back into her
little bed. But she clung tightly to one of her father's hands, and
could not be prevailed upon to let it go.

Luisa took another candle from the table and tried to light it, but her
hands shook so she did not succeed. "Are you not coming to bed?" Franco
asked. "No," she said, trembling more violently than ever. Franco
thought he divined a supposition, a fear in her, and was offended. "Oh,
you can come!" he said angrily. Luisa lighted her candle and said, more
calmly, that she must work on the little shoes. She went out, and only
on the threshold did she murmur: "Good-night." "Good-night," Franco
answered coldly. For a moment he thought he would undress, but he
presently relinquished his intention because his wife was still up, and
at work. He spread back the coverlet and lay down in his clothes, on the
side of the bed next to the child, that he might hold Maria's little
hand--she had not yet gone to sleep--and put out the light.

What sweetness in the touch of that dear, tiny hand! Franco felt her the
little child she was, his daughter, the innocent, loving baby, and then
he imagined her a woman, her heart all his, united to him in every
thought, every sentiment, and he fancied the little hand that pressed
his was striving to compensate him for all that Luisa had made him
suffer, and was saying: "Papa, you and I are united for ever!" Good God!
he shuddered at the thought that Luisa might wish to bring her up in her
own way of thinking, and that he, being far away, would be powerless to
prevent this. He prayed to God, to the Virgin Mary, to the saintly
grandmother Teresa, to his own mother, who, he was well aware, had been
so pure and so pious. "Watch over my Maria, watch over her!" he
murmured. He offered to sacrifice his whole being, his earthly
happiness, his health, even life itself, that Maria might be saved from
error.

"Papa," said the child, "a kiss."

He leaned out of bed, and, bending down, sought the dear little face in
the dark, and told her to be quiet, to go to sleep. She was silent for a
moment, and then called--

"Papa!"

"What is it?"

"I haven't got the mule under my pillow, you know, papa."

"No, no, dear, but now go to sleep."

"Yes, papa, I am going to sleep."

Once more she was silent for a moment and then said--

"Is mamma in bed, papa?"

"No, dear."

"Why not?"

"Because she is making little shoes for you."

"Shall I wear shoes in heaven also, like great grandfather?"

"Hush! Go to sleep."

"Tell me a story, papa."

He tried, but he had neither Luisa's imagination nor her skill, and soon
came to a stand-still. "Oh, papa!" said Maria, in a compassionate tone,
"you don't know how to tell stories."

This was humiliating. "Listen, listen!" he answered, and began reciting
a ballad by Carrer, always going back to the beginning after the first
four lines, which were all he knew of it, his expression becoming ever
more mysterious, his voice ever fainter, until it was only an
inarticulate murmur, and thus at last Signorina Missipipì, lulled by the
rhythm of the lines, passed with them into the world of dreams. When he
heard her sleeping peacefully it seemed to him he was so cruel to leave
her, he felt himself such a traitor, that he wavered in his resolve. He
at once controlled himself, however.

The sweet dialogue with the child had greatly soothed him and raised his
spirits. He began to be conscious of an imperative duty towards his wife
which would henceforth be incumbent upon him. He must show himself a
man, both in will and in deed, and this at the cost of any sacrifice. He
must defend his faith against her by his works, by leaving home, by
labour and suffering; and then--and then--if Almighty God should see
fit to allow the cannon to roar for Italy, he must push ever to the
front; and let the Austrian ball come, if it but teach her to weep and
pray at last!

He remembered that he had not said his evening prayers. Poor Franco, he
had never been able to say them in bed without dropping off to sleep
before they were half finished. Feeling comparatively calm, and
reflecting that it might perhaps be some time before Luisa came to bed,
he feared he should go to sleep, and what would she say if she found him
sleeping? He rose very softly and said his prayers; then he lighted the
candle and sat down at the writing-desk, intending to read, but
presently he fell asleep in his chair.

       *       *       *       *       *

He was aroused by the beat of Veronica's wooden shoes on the stairs.
Luisa was not yet come. Soon, however, she entered the room, and
expressed no surprise at seeing Franco already up.

"It is four o'clock," she said. "If you intend to start, you have only
half an hour's time." He must leave home at half-past four, to be sure
of reaching Menaggio in time for the first boat coming from Colico.
Instead of going to Como and thence to Milan as had been officially
announced, Franco was to leave the steamer at Argegno and go up to S.
Fedele, coming down into Switzerland by Val Mara or by Orimento and
Monte Generoso.

Franco signed to his wife to be quiet, that she might not disturb Maria.
Then with another silent gesture he called her to him.

"I am going," he said. "Last night I was harsh with you. I beg you to
forgive me. I should have answered you differently, even though I was in
the right. You know my temperament. Forgive me! At least, do not let us
part in anger."

"For my part I feel none," Luisa answered gently, as one who finds it
easy to condescend, because he feels himself superior.

The final preparations were made in silence; breakfast was eaten in
silence. Franco went to embrace the uncle to whom he had not said
good-bye the night before; then he returned to the alcove-room alone,
and kneeling beside the little bed, touched with his lips a tiny hand
that was hanging over the edge. Upon returning to the parlour he found
Luisa in shawl and hat, and asked if she were going to Porlezza also.
Yes, she was going. Everything was ready. Luisa had the handbag, the
valise was in the boat, and Ismaele was waiting on the stairs of the
boathouse, one foot on the step, the other on the prow of the boat.

Veronica accompanied the travellers with a light, and wished her master
a pleasant journey, with a crestfallen expression, for she had an
inkling of the quarrel.

Two minutes later and the heavy boat, pushed forward by Ismaele's slow
and steady "travelling strokes," was passing beneath the wall of the
kitchen-garden. Franco put his head out of the little window. The
rose-bushes, the caper-bushes, and the aloes hanging from the wall,
passed slowly in the pale light of this starry but moonless night; then
the orange-trees, the medlar, and the pine slipped by. Good-bye!
Good-bye! They passed the cemetery, the _Zocca di Mainè_, the narrow
lane where he had so often walked with Maria, the Tavorell. Franco no
longer watched. The light that usually burned in the little cabin was
not there to-night, and he could not see his wife, who was silent.

"Are you going to Porlezza about those papers of the notary's, or simply
to accompany me?" he said.

"This too!" Luisa murmured sadly. "I tried to be strictly honest with
you, and you took offence. You ask my forgiveness, and now you say such
things as this to me. I see that one cannot be faithful to truth without
great, great suffering. But patience! I have chosen that path now. You
will know soon whether I really came on your account or not. Do not
humble me by making me say so now."

"_Do not humble me!_" Franco exclaimed. "I do not understand. We are
indeed different in so many ways. My God, how different we are! You are
always so completely mistress of yourself, you can always express your
thoughts so exactly, they are always so clear, so cool."

Luisa murmured: "Yes, we are different."

Neither spoke again until they reached Cressogno. When they were near
the Marchesa's villa Luisa began to talk, and tried to keep the
conversation alive until they should have left the villa behind. She
asked him to repeat to her the itinerary that had been arranged for his
journey, and suggested that he take only his handbag with him, for the
valise would be a burden from Argegno on. She had already spoken to
Ismaele about it, and he had promised to carry it to Lugano and send it
on to Turin from that place. Meanwhile they had passed his grandmother's
villa.

Now the sanctuary of Caravina came in sight. Twice during their
courtship Franco and Luisa had met under those olive-trees, at the
_festa_ of Caravina, on the eighth of September. And now the dear little
church in its grove of olives, beneath the awful rocks of the peak of
Cressogno, was left behind also. Farewell, little church. Farewell to
the past!

"Remember," Franco said, almost harshly, "that Maria is to say her
prayers every morning and evening. It is an order I give you."

"I should have made her do so without this order," Luisa answered. "I
know Maria does not belong to me alone."

Then they were silent all the way to Porlezza. Coming forth from the
tranquil bay of Valsolda, seeing other valleys, other horizons, the lake
just rippled by the first breath of dawn, the two travellers were drawn
towards other thoughts, were led to think, without knowing why, of the
uncertain future, which must bring great events, of which prophetic
whisperings already circulated mysteriously through the heavy Austrian
silence. Some one called out from the shore at Porlezza, and Ismaele
began to row rapidly. It was the driver, Toni Pollin, who was shouting
to them to make haste if they wished to catch the steamer at Menaggio.

The last moments had come. Franco let down the window in the little
door, and looked at the man as if he were most anxious not to lose a
word.

When they touched the shore he turned to his wife. "Are you going to get
out also?" "If you wish it," she said. They alighted. A cabriolet stood
ready on the shore. "By the way," said Luisa, "you will find some lunch
in your bag." They embraced, exchanging a cold and rapid kiss in the
presence of three or four curious bystanders "Try and make Maria forgive
me for leaving her thus," said Franco, and they were his last words, for
Toni Pollin was hurrying them: "Quick, quick!" The horse started off at
a brisk trot, and the cabriolet rattled noisily, with a great snapping
of the whip, through the dark and narrow street of Porlezza.

       *       *       *       *       *

Franco was on board the _Falcon_ between Campo and Argegno when he
thought of his lunch. He opened the bag, and his heart gave a bound as
he perceived a letter bearing as an address the words "For You" in his
wife's hand. He tore it open eagerly, and read as follows--

"If you only knew what I am experiencing in my soul, how I am suffering,
how sorely I am tempted to lay aside the little shoes--in the making of
which I am far less skilful than you think--and to go to you, taking
back all I have said, you would not be so harsh with me. I must have
sinned deeply against truth, that the first steps I now take in
following her are so difficult, so bitter.

"You think me proud, and I believed myself very sensitive, but now I
feel that your humiliating words alone could not have kept me from
hastening to you. What holds me back is a Voice within me, a Voice
stronger than I am, which commands me to sacrifice everything save my
consciousness of truth.

"Ah! I hope this sacrifice may bring its reward! I hope that one day
there may be a perfect union between our two souls.

"I am going into the garden to gather for you that brave little rose we
admired together the other day, the little rose that has challenged and
conquered January. Do you remember how many obstacles lay between us the
first time I received a flower from your hand? I was not yet in love
with you, but you already dreamt of winning me. Now it is I who hope to
win you!"

Franco came near letting the steamer pass Argegno without moving from
his seat.



CHAPTER IX

FOR BREAD, FOR ITALY, FOR GOD


Eight months later, in September, 1855, Franco was occupying a miserable
attic in Via Barbaroux, Turin. In February he had obtained the post of
translator for the _Opinione_, with a monthly salary of eighty-five
lire. Later he began to write the parliamentary reports, and his salary
was raised to a hundred lire. Dina, the manager of the paper, was fond
of him, and procured him extra work outside the office, thus adding
twenty-five or thirty lire to his earnings. Franco lived on sixty lire a
month. The rest went to Lugano to be carried thence to Oria by the
faithful hands of Ismaele. To live a month on sixty lire took more
courage than Franco himself had believed he possessed. The hours at the
office, the translating--a laborious task for one full of scruples and
literary timidity--weighed more heavily upon him than the privations;
moreover he felt even sixty lire was too large a sum, and reproached
himself for not being able to do with less.

He had attached himself to six other refugees, some of whom were
Lombards, others Venetians. They ate together, walked together,
conversed together. With the exception of Franco and a young man from
Udine, all the others were between thirty and forty years of age. All
were extremely poor, and not one of them had ever consented to accept a
penny from the Piedmontese Government as a subsidy. The young man from
Udine came of a rich family, of Austrian tendencies, and received not a
penny from home. He was a good flutist, gave four or five lessons a
week, and played in the small orchestras of second-rate theatres. A
notary from Padua was copyist in Boggio's office. A lawyer from Caprino,
Bergamasco, who had seen service at Rome in 1849, was book-keeper at a
large establishment in Via Nuovo, where umbrellas and walking-sticks
were sold, and for this reason his friends had dubbed him "the knave of
clubs." A fourth, a Milanese, had been through the campaign of 1848 as
one of Carlo Alberto's scouts. His present occupation was to quarrel
continually with "the knave of clubs," for reasons of provincial
rivalry, to teach fencing in a couple of boarding schools, and in winter
to play the piano behind a mysterious curtain in halls where polkas were
danced at a penny each. The others lived on insufficient allowances from
their families. All except Franco were unmarried, and all were gay. They
called themselves, and were called by others, the "seven wise men," and
in their wisdom they dominated Turin from the elevated positions of
seven attics, scattered all over the city from Borgo San Dalmazzo to
Piazza Milano.

Franco's was the most wretched of these attics, the rent being only
seven lire a month. No member of this band had any services whatsoever
performed for them, save the notary from Padua, for whom the
doorkeeper's sister carried water to his attic, and had he not been the
calm philosopher he was, the merciless teasings of his friends would
have made him regret Marga's devotion. They all cleaned their own boots.
The most skilful with his hands was Franco, and it was his lot to sew on
his friends' buttons when they did not wish to humble themselves by
applying to the lawyer and his Marga, who, nevertheless, often had her
hands full, "poor, overworked woman that I am!" The young man from Udine
had a sweetheart, a little _tota_[N] from the first booth in Piazza
Castello on the corner of Po, but he was jealous, and would not allow
her to sew on buttons for any one. The friends took their revenge by
calling her "the puppet," because she sold puppets and dolls. However,
thanks to "the puppet," he was the only member of the band whose clothes
were always in order, and whose cravat was always tied in a graceful
knot. They took their meals at a restaurant in Vanchiglia, which they
had christened "Stomach-ache Tavern," and where they had lunch and
dinner for thirty lire a month.

Their only extravagance was the _bicierîn_, a mixture of coffee, milk,
and chocolate, costing only fifteen centimes. They drank this in the
morning, the Venetians at the Café Alfieri, the others at Café Florio.
All except Franco, however. He went without the _bicierîn_ and the
_torcètt_, a cake costing a penny that went with it, in order that he
might lay by enough for a little trip to Lugano, and a trifling present
for Maria. In the winter they walked under the porticoes of Po, the
"wise ones" in the vicinity of the University, while the more
light-minded frequented the porticoes on the San Francesco side. After
their walk they would go to a coffee-house, where the one whose turn it
was would sip a cup of coffee, while the others read the newspapers and
looted the sugar basin. Once a week, to satisfy the "knave of clubs,"
they would betake themselves to a den in Via Bertola, where the purest
and most exquisite Giambava wine was to be had.

The flutist from Udine of course went to the theatres, and by his means
some of the others went _gratis_ from time to time, but always to the
play, and usually either to the Rossini or Gerbino theatres. For Franco
to be obliged to pass the posters at the Regio and the other opera
houses was a far greater trial than to be obliged to clean his own boots
and lunch off two square inches of omelet that was so thin it would have
served admirably to observe the spots on the sun through. He had had the
good fortune to make the acquaintance of a certain C., a Venetian, who
was secretary at the department of Public Works, and who presented him
to the family of a most distinguished major in the sanitary corps, also
Venetian, and who owned a piano and was in the habit of receiving a few
friends of an evening, on which occasions he would regale them with a
cup of most excellent coffee of a quality almost unique in the Turin of
those days. When, for one reason or another, the "seven wise men" did
not spend the evening together, Franco would go to this gentleman's
house in Piazza Milano, to make music, to converse on art with the
daughters, or to discuss politics with his hostess, a fierce Venetian
patriot, a woman of great talents, and possessed of a strenuous soul,
who had not only borne heroically all the hardships and the bitterness
of exile, but had sustained the courage of her husband, whose first
steps had been most painful and difficult; for those precious, honest
old numskulls of the inflexible Piedmontese administration had actually
obliged this already famous professor of the University of Padua to
submit to an examination, before they would admit him into the army as
surgeon.[O]

The correspondence between Turin and Oria did not indeed reflect the
true state of mind of Franco and Luisa; it ran on smoothly and
affectionately enough, but with great caution and reserve on either
side. Luisa had expected that Franco would answer her note, and resume
the great discussion. As he never mentioned either the note or what had
passed between them that last night, she risked an allusion. It was
allowed to pass unheeded. As a matter of fact Franco had several times
started to write with the intention of confuting his wife's opinions.
Before beginning he always felt himself strong, and was convinced that
with a little thought he could easily discover crushing arguments, and,
indeed, arguments he believed to be such would rush to his pen, but when
they were set down in writing, he would at once be forced to recognise
their inadequacy. Though surprised and grieved he would make another
attempt, but always with the same result. Nevertheless his wife was
certainly in error; this he never for a moment doubted, and there must
be a way of demonstrating it to her. He must study. But what, and how?
He consulted a priest to whom he had been to confession soon after his
arrival in Turin. This priest, a little misshapen old man, who was fiery
and very learned, invited him to his house in Piazza Paisana, and began
to help him enthusiastically, suggesting a number of books, some for his
own perusal, and others to be sent to his wife. He was a learned
Orientalist, and an enthusiastic Thomist, and had taken a great fancy to
Franco, of whose genius and culture he had formed an opinion which was
perhaps exaggeratedly favourable. At one time he was on the point of
proposing to him the study of Hebrew, and indeed insisted upon his
reading St. Thomas. He went so far as to sketch for Franco the outlines
of a letter to his wife, with a list of the arguments he must expound.
Franco had at once fallen in love with the enthusiastic little old man,
who, moreover, had the pure expression of a saint. He began to study St.
Thomas with great ardour, but did not persevere long. He felt he was
embarking upon a sea without beginning and without end, across which he
was unable to steer a straight course. The scholastic scheme of
treatment, that sameness in the form of argument for and against, that
icy Latin, dense with profound thought, and colourless on the surface,
had successfully routed all his good intentions at the end of three
days. Of the arguments contained in the sketch for the letter he
understood only a small part. He got the priest to explain them to him,
understood somewhat better, and prepared to open a campaign with them,
but found himself as much encumbered by them as was David by the armour
of Saul. They weighed upon him, he could not handle them, he felt they
were not his own and never would be. No, he could not present himself
before his wife with Professor G.'s priestly hat and tunic, a
theological lance in his hand, and entrenched behind a shield of
metaphysics. He recognised that he was not born to philosophise in any
way; he was destitute of the very power of strictly logical reasoning,
for indeed his glowing heart, rich in tenderness and indignation, would
too often interfere, speaking for or against, according to its own
passions. One evening at Casa C. he was playing the _andante_ of
Beethoven's twenty-eighth sonata, when, with quivering nerves and
flashing eyes, he said in a low tone: "Ah! This, this, this!" He was
reflecting that no theologian, no doctor, could communicate the
religious sentiment as Beethoven does. As he played on he put his whole
soul into the music, and longed for Luisa's presence that he might play
this divine _andante_ to her, that he might unite himself to her,
praying thus in an ineffable spasm of the spirit. But he did not reflect
that Luisa who, moreover, was far less sensitive to music than he was,
would probably have attributed another meaning to the _andante_, that of
the painful conflict between our affections and our convictions.

He went to G., returned the works of St. Thomas and confessed his utter
incapacity in such humble and feeling language, that after a few moments
of frowning and uneasy silence, the old priest forgave him. "There,
there, there!" said he, resignedly taking back the first volume of the
_Somma_. "Commend yourself to our Lord, and let us hope He Himself will
act." Thus ended Franco's theological studies.

All this pondering of his wife's opinions and his own, and above all
the Professor's advice: "Commend yourself to our Lord," were not
fruitless. He began to see that on some points Luisa was not mistaken.
When she had reproached him for not leading a life in conformity with
his faith, he had been more offended by this than by anything else. Now
a generous impulse carried him to the other extreme; he judged himself
severely, exaggerated his faults of idleness, of anger, even of greed,
and held himself responsible for Luisa's intellectual aberrations. He
felt a desire to tell her this, to humble himself before her, to
separate his own cause from the cause of God. When he obtained his
position on the _Opinione_, and regulated his own expenses in such a
manner as to be able to make an allowance to his family, his wife wrote
that this allowance was entirely too large in proportion to his
earnings, and that the thought of him, living in Turin on sixty lire a
month, gave her own food a bitter taste. He answered--and this was not
strictly true--that in the first place, he never went hungry, but that
he would, indeed, be glad to fast, because he felt an intense desire to
change his way of life, to expiate his past idleness, including the
hours he had wasted on his flowers and music, to expiate all past
softness, all past weaknesses, including the weakness for dainty dishes
and fine wines. He added that he had asked God's forgiveness for this
past life, and that he felt he must ask her forgiveness also. In fact
the Paduan, with whom Franco had become very intimate, and to whom he
read this passage in his letter as a sort of confirmation of previous
confessions, exclaimed: "That bit sounds for all the world like the
oration of Manasseh, king of Judæa!"

Luisa wrote most affectionately, but with less effusion. Franco's
silence on the painful subject displeased her, and she felt it would be
unwise on her part to allude to it in the face of a silence so
obstinate.

His good intentions concerning labour and self-sacrifice moved her
deeply; when she read that confession of great wickedness, followed by
the prayer for pardon to God and to herself, she smiled and kissed the
letter, feeling that this was an act of submission, and a humble
acceptance of the censure which had at first only irritated him. Poor
Franco! These were the impulses of his noble, generous nature! But would
they last? She answered at once, and if her emotion was apparent in her
answer, so also was her smile, which displeased Franco. At the end he
found these words: "When I read your many self-accusations I thought,
with remorse, of the accusations I brought against you, one sad night,
and I felt that you also had been thinking of them as you wrote,
although neither in this letter nor in any other are they alluded to. I
deeply regret those accusations, my own Franco, but how I wish we could
speak together as true friends, concerning those other questions of
which I think so much here in my solitude!"

Luisa's wish remained ungratified. In answering Franco did not even
touch on this point; indeed his next letter was somewhat cool, so Luisa
did not again revert to the subject. Only once, when speaking of Maria,
did she write: "If you could only see how Maria recites her 'Our Father'
every night and morning, and how well she behaves at Mass, on Sundays,
you would be satisfied."

He replied: "As to what you tell me concerning Maria's religious
exercises, I am satisfied, and I thank you!"

Both Luisa and Franco wrote almost every day, and sent their letters
once a week. Ismaele went to the post at Lugano every Tuesday, taking
the wife's letters and bringing back the husband's. In June Maria had
the measles, and in August Uncle Piero lost the sight of his left eye,
almost without warning, and for some time was greatly distressed. During
these two periods the letters from Oria were more frequent, but in
September the weekly correspondence was resumed. From the bundle of
letters I take the last that passed between Franco and Luisa, on the eve
of those events which overwhelmed them at the end of September.


                                 LUISA TO FRANCO.

                                   "_September 14, 1856._

     "I do not think Pasotti will ever come to our house again. I am
     sorry on poor Barborin's account, for I fear she will not be
     able to come either, but I do not regret what I did.

     "He has known perfectly well for some time that you are in
     Turin. He even talked of it with the Receiver, so Maria Pon
     told me. She was in the Romit chapel, and heard them talking on
     their way down from Albogasio Superiore. When he came here he
     would always pretend not to know, and would enquire for you
     with his usual assumption of interest and friendship. To-day he
     found me alone in the little garden and asked how much longer
     you would be absent and whether you were in Milan at present. I
     answered frankly that his question surprised me. He turned
     pale. 'Why?' said he. 'Because you have been going about saying
     that Franco is in an entirely different place.' He became
     confused and protested angrily. 'You may protest as much as you
     like!' I said. 'It is quite useless. You know that. At all
     events Franco is very well off where he is. You may say as much
     to whomever you please.' 'You wish to insult me!' he exclaimed.
     I did not stop to think long, but retorted: 'That is quite
     possible!' Then he rushed away without saluting me, and looking
     as black as the ace of spades--that simile suits my present
     mood! I am sure he will go to Cressogno this evening.

     "Cüstant has sent us a present of a magnificent tench which he
     caught this morning, much to the chagrin of Bianconi, who
     fishes all day long, and never catches anything. He is furious
     with the impudent tench because they snap their fingers--so to
     speak--at His Imperial and Royal Majesty of Austria and his
     Carlascia. 'Poor fellow!' says Signora Peppina. 'He is eating
     his heart out!'

     "However, he will get over it, he will get over it.

                                                "_September 15._

     "I related the Pasotti episode to Uncle Piero and he was very
     much annoyed. 'Much good this will do you!' he said. Poor
     Uncle! One might almost suspect him of being a utilitarian,
     whereas he is really a philosopher. After all the strongest
     argument he ever opposes to all my burning indignation against
     the many ugly things in this world is: 'Worrying won't mend
     it!'

     "To-day the parish Mass was said at Albogasio Superiore. In
     coming out of church with Maria I caught a despairing glance
     from poor Barborin, who evidently had orders to avoid me.
     However, Ester walked down with us and coming into the house
     told me privately something I have been expecting to hear. She
     began by begging me not to laugh, while all the time she was
     laughing herself. I succeeded in gathering that the Professor,
     by dint of great perseverance, has overcome her resistance,
     although Ester still declares she does not know her own mind.

     "'It is his nose!' she said this morning, laughing and hiding
     her gay little face. Indeed that scandalous nose seems to me to
     be prospering; it is redder than ever, and grows ever larger!

                                                "_September 18._

     "I have not written for three days, fearing I should not be
     mistress of my pen, nor be able to confine my thoughts within
     words which must not exceed certain bounds. Now I feel equal to
     the task, and so I will set about it. But I must warn you,
     Franco, that I am not sure of being able to control my feelings
     all the way through.

     "Well, then, your grandmother's agent came to me on the evening
     of the fifteenth. As the half-yearly payment of your income is
     due on the sixteenth, I concluded he had come to bring the five
     hundred _svanziche_, and so I told him at once that I would go
     and prepare the receipt for him. Then the most gracious Signor
     Bellini informed me that my receipt would not be sufficient.
     'How can that be?' I said. 'It was sufficient on the sixteenth
     of March.' 'I don't know,' he replied. 'I have my orders.' 'But
     Franco is not here.' 'I know that.' 'Then what did you come
     here for?' 'I came to tell you that if Don Franco wishes to
     draw his money he must present himself at the Signora
     Marchesa's agency in Brescia.' 'And what if he cannot go to
     Brescia?' Here Signor Bellini made a gesture that meant, 'That
     is your affair.' I replied that it was all right, had coffee
     brought for him, and told him I was anxious to purchase the
     book-shelves in your old study at Cressogno from the Signora
     Marchesa. Bellini turned yellow, and sneaked away like our old
     dog Pato at Casa Rigey when he had been stealing.

     "Most certainly the worthy Pasotti has had a finger in this
     dirty business.

     "The Prefect of Caravina was here yesterday and told us that
     Pasotti went to Cressogno on the evening of the fourteenth. He
     was very late, and reached your grandmother's house while they
     were saying the rosary, so he had to mumble the prayers with
     the others, which greatly amused the prefect, for it is his
     opinion that Pasotti goes to Mass simply because he is an
     Imperial and Royal pensioner, but that his only prayer is 'the
     rats' Pater,' whatever that may be. He added that after the
     others had gone out Pasotti remained in confabulation with your
     grandmother, and that Bellini was also present. Bellini had
     arrived that very day from Brescia. He probably brought the
     money for you.

     "We have enough left to live upon until the money comes from
     you in October. That is all I wish to say.

     "Maria sends you the cyclamen you will find enclosed. I must
     also tell you the following incident. You can fancy she notices
     the state of mind I am in. She often hears me discussing the
     subject with Uncle Piero. The uncle is always the uncle! In his
     whole life he has set down as rascals only such contractors as
     offered him bribes, and another uncle his exact opposite, who,
     after making use of his nephew for many years, died without
     leaving him so much as a dried fig. He would never recognise
     any other rascals, nor will he do so even now. Well, when I am
     talking with him, Maria always wants to listen. I send her
     away, but I sometimes fail to notice that she has returned very
     softly. This morning she began saying her prayers. Oh, Franco!
     your daughter is indeed very religious in your own way! The
     last prayer she repeats is a _requiem_ for poor Grandmamma
     Teresa. 'Mamma,' said she when she had finished, 'I want to
     recite a _requiem_ for the grandmother in Cressogno also.'
     Never mind my answer. My words were bitter; perhaps I did
     wrong; I am even ready to confess I did wrong. Maria looked at
     me, and said: 'Is the grandmother at Cressogno really wicked?'
     'Yes.' 'But why does Uncle Piero say she is not really wicked?'
     'Because Uncle Piero is so very good.' 'Then you are not so
     very good?' My dear little innocent! I devoured her with
     kisses, I could not help it! As soon as she was free to speak
     she began again: 'You will not go to Paradise, you know, if you
     are not so very good.' Paradise is her one idea. Poor Franco,
     not to have her with you, you who would be so satisfied with
     her! You are indeed making a great sacrifice! If it will give
     you any pleasure I will tell you that the only possibility for
     me to love God is through this child, for in her God becomes
     visible and intelligible to me.

     "Good-bye, Franco. I embrace you.

                                                    "LUISA.

     "P. S. I must tell you that I have dismissed Veronica for the
     first of October. This I did in the first place for reasons of
     economy, and secondly because I have discovered that she is
     flirting with a customs-guard. Oh! I almost forgot something
     else! Half an hour ago Ester came to tell me she has decided to
     say 'yes,' but she wishes to wait a day longer before seeing
     the Professor. She has evidently succeeded in swallowing the
     nose, but has not yet digested it."

                                 FRANCO TO LUISA.

                                    "TURIN, _September 14, 1855_.

     "The 'knave of clubs' is threatened with dismissal by his
     employer on account of the truly miserable state of his
     clothes. The 'knave' is indeed given to extravagance, and has
     not yet learned--_duris in rebus_--to handle a clothes brush,
     but however that may be, the other 'wise men' have decided not
     to lunch for a week in order that he may re-clothe himself. Now
     observe the baseness of the human heart! The 'knave,'
     overflowing with expressions of gratitude, calmly prepared to
     go to his own lunch! This, however, we would not stand. So
     to-day, instead of repairing to Stomach-ache Tavern, we spent
     half an hour on the banks of the Po, near the Valentino,
     watching the water flow past. The wise man from Udine had
     brought his flute with him, because music should not be wanting
     at an ideal lunch, at which the most Irimalchionian ideas of
     food and beverages are handed round. He also had with him a
     letter from his family, containing magnificent proposals for
     his return to the fold. They even offer him a riding-horse. He
     says he has written them that they will soon see him come
     dashing up on one of King Victor Emmanuel's horses. Then the
     Paduan, who is a wag, said to him with a great assumption of
     seriousness, "Ah, my hero! So you are beginning to blow your
     own trumpet as well as play the flute!" The flutist was wild,
     but presently he calmed down, and played us a nice little tune.
     The strange part of it all is that none of us felt hungry.
     However, when the meeting was adjourned, we decided that the
     'knave's' clothing should be simplified, and that he could get
     along without the _justicoat_, known in modern parlance as the
     waistcoat.

     "Ah! We would all gladly do without dinner as well as lunch if
     we could only cross the Ticino with the King in April, 1856! We
     talked of this on our way back to the city after the ideal
     lunch. The Paduan observed that the water is too cold in April
     and that we had better wait until the end of June. We began to
     talk about how great Italy will be without the Germans. I
     assure you we were all enthusiastic, in spite of the emptiness
     of our stomachs. All except the Paduan of course, but of him I
     must tell you that if he is reduced almost to the verge of
     starvation, it is because he will not tolerate the Austrians,
     and that although he is knocking at the door of forty, he will
     fight better than some of these young fellows who are now
     devouring an Austrian for lunch, and two for dinner! He says we
     shall once more become a cat and dog kingdom. 'Mark this, for
     example,' he added. 'When the Germans shall have departed, each
     of us will return to his own home, and woe to you if you come
     and worry me in Padua!' I can almost fancy I am listening to
     Uncle Piero, when, at Oria, we used to discuss the greatness
     and the splendid future of Italy. 'Yes, yes, yes!' he would
     say, 'Yes, yes, yes! The lake will turn into milk and honey,
     and the Galbiga will become a Parmesan cheese!'

     "We shall see! We shall see!


                                            "_September 21._

     "Your letter has awakened in me a tumult of feelings which
     cannot be described in writing.

     "Of course my grandmother's action and the indirect malevolence
     of Pasotti grieve me deeply, but your too violent indignation
     is far more painful to me. When some one holding my
     power-of-attorney presents himself at Brescia, payment cannot
     be refused. It is true that you, a woman, are not expected to
     know these things. I can also forgive your anger, for in the
     beginning I myself was not unmoved. Then I asked myself: Why
     are you indignant? Why are you surprised? Were you not already
     acquainted with that evil spirit, and have you not already
     suffered greater insult from it?

     "I am most deeply grieved that you did not succeed in hiding
     your feelings from Maria; I am deeply moved to learn that you
     repented of this; and deeply thankful that you love the Lord in
     the child, and that you have confessed as much to me. Indeed I
     feel I should not be so overjoyed at this, for the heavens and
     the earth are always inviting us to love God; He is visible in
     every ray of light, and His voice may be heard in every truth.
     But, at least, you are beginning to hear this voice! I have
     never touched upon this subject in my letters because I feel I
     am not capable of speaking worthily and efficaciously of it to
     you. And now I shall let God Himself speak to you through the
     child, and once more resume my silence. But remember, I am
     waiting in suspense; I am hoping and praying.

     "How can I express to you what I feel for Maria? Who could
     describe this emotion, this immense tenderness, this consuming
     desire to clasp her for a moment, only for one moment, to my
     heart? Do you believe I shall be able to wait until November?
     No, no, no! I will write, I will copy, I will do the work of
     others, but I must come to Lugano sooner! Cover her with kisses
     for me, and meanwhile, tell her that Papa carries his Maria in
     his heart always, and that he sends her his blessing. Ask her
     what she wishes me to bring her and let me know, without
     thinking too much about my poverty.

     "With my whole soul I embrace you, my Luisa.

                                                "FRANCO."

                      LUISA TO FRANCO. "_September 24, 1855._

     "At last! Ever since you left I have been longing for you to
     touch upon this question. How did I explain myself that night,
     in my painful emotion? How did you understand me, in your
     equally painful emotion? For months and months I have felt the
     necessity of speaking of this to you, and I have never done so
     because I lacked courage.

     "You will remember you accused me of pride that night. I
     implore you to believe that I am not proud. I cannot even
     understand such an accusation.

     "Your letter gives me the idea that you think I have returned
     to a belief in God. But did I ever tell you that I do not
     believe in God? I cannot have told you so, for the whole
     history of my opinions is engraved upon my mind, and the
     fright, the distressing thought that I might perhaps no longer
     be able to believe in God, came to me after you left. I know
     the day, the very hour. At S. Mamette I had heard them talking
     of a great dinner your grandmother had given at Brescia, while
     I could not even procure the food and wine necessary for the
     diet the doctor--fearing the loss of the right eye--had
     prescribed for our beloved Uncle. I struggled against these
     awful shadows, Franco, and I conquered. It is true the victory
     is due, in a great measure, to Maria. I mean that if all these
     black clouds hide the existence of Supreme Justice from me, a
     ray of light from it reaches me through Maria; and this ray of
     light makes me believe, makes me hope in the Orb. For it would
     be too horrible if the universe were not governed by justice!

     "That night then, I can only have told you that I understood
     religion in a different way from you; that prayers and acts of
     Christian faith did not seem to me essential to the religious
     idea, but rather love and actions for those who suffer, rather
     indignation and actions against those who cause suffering!

     "And you wish to resume your silence? No, you must not. You
     feel weak, you say. Do you feel you yourself are weak, or your
     _Credo_? Let us reason, let us discuss. Confess that one reason
     why you who believe, love your beliefs, is because they are
     comfortably restful to the intellect. You stretch yourselves at
     your ease in them as in a hammock, suspended in the air by
     innumerable threads spun by men and fastened by men to many
     hooks. You are comfortable, and if any one examines or lays his
     hand upon one only of these threads, you are troubled, and
     afraid it will snap, because very probably its neighbour will
     snap also, and after that one, another; and so, to your great
     fright and pain, your fragile bed will come tumbling down from
     the sky to the earth. I know this fright and this pain, I know
     that the satisfaction of walking on solid ground must be
     purchased at this cost, and therefore I am not deterred by a
     pity that would be false from discussing with you. But I may
     be mistaken, and perhaps it may be you who will lift me up, up
     to your resting place of fragile threads and air. Maria is not
     equal to this task. If Maria makes me believe in God, it does
     not follow that she can make me believe in the Church as well.
     And you yourself believe in the Church above all things.
     Therefore try to convince me, and I also will listen in
     suspense, and though I do not pray, at least I can hope,
     because now my longing for a perfect union with you is stronger
     than ever before. Now, together with my old affection, I feel a
     new admiration for you, a new gratitude towards you.

     "Will you take offence at this outpouring of mine? Remember
     that you must have found a letter from me in your handbag,
     eight months ago, and that I have waited eight months for an
     answer!

     "The Professor and Ester now meet at our house as fiancés.
     They, at least, are happy. She goes to church and he does not,
     and neither of them thinks any more about it than they do about
     the difference in the colour of their hair. And I believe nine
     hundred and ninety-nine couples in a thousand do the same."

     "I embrace you. Write me a long, long letter.

                                                  "LUISA."

This letter did not leave Lugano until September 26th, and Franco
received it on the 27th. On the 29th, at eight o'clock in the morning,
he received the following telegram, also from Lugano:

     "Child dangerously ill. Come at once.

                                              "UNCLE."


FOOTNOTES:

[N] _Tota_ is Piedmontese for young girl, often used in the sense of
_grisette_. [_Translator's note._]

[O] It must be remembered that Padua and its university were at that
time dominated by the Austrians, and that patriotism drove this "already
famous professor" to give up his position and migrate to free Piedmont.
[_Translator's note._]



CHAPTER X

SIGNORA LUISA, COME HOME!


In the early afternoon of the twenty-seventh of September Luisa was
returning from Porlezza with some documents to copy for the notary. In
those days the rocks between S. Michele and Porlezza were perfectly
bare, and destitute of the narrow pathway which now runs across them.
Luisa had had herself ferried that short distance, and had then walked
along the lane that, like all those of my little world, both ancient and
modern, would admit of no other method of travel; that pretty deceitful
lane, that seeks in every way to avoid leading whither the traveller
wishes to go. At Cressogno it passes above Villa Maironi, which,
however, is not visible from the path.

"What if I should meet her?" Luisa thought, her blood boiling. But she
met no one. On the slope between Cressogno and Campo, the sun beat
fiercely. When she reached the cool, high valley known as Campo, she sat
down in the shade of the colossal chestnut-tree that is still alive, the
last of three or four venerable patriarchs, and looked towards the
houses of her native Castello, clustered in a circle round a lofty peak
among those shady crags. She thought of her dead mother, and was glad
she, at least, was at rest. Presently she heard some one exclaim: "Oh,
blessed Madonna!" It was Signora Peppina, who was also on her way from
Cressogno, and who was in despair because neither at S. Mamette, Loggio,
nor Cressogno had she been able to find any eggs. "Carlo will beat me
this time! He'll kill me outright, my dear!" She would have liked to go
on to Puria, but she was half dead with fatigue. What roads! How many
stones! "When I think of my Milan, my dear!" She sat down on the grass
beside Luisa, saying many affectionate things to her, and wanted her to
guess with whom she had been speaking about her, only a few minutes
before. "With the Signora Marchesa! Certainly! Yes indeed! Oh, my
dear...." It looked as if Signora Peppina had great things to tell, but
did not dare do so, and as their presence in her throat was causing her
discomfort, she was bound to make Luisa draw them out. "What a
business!" she would exclaim from time to time. "What a business! What
language! Oh, dear! Oh, dear!" But Luisa held her peace. At last the
other yielded to the terrible tickling in her throat, and poured forth
her story. She had gone to the Marchesa's cook to borrow some eggs, and
the Signora Marchesa, hearing her voice, had insisted upon seeing her,
and had kept her there chattering. In her heart she had felt what she
believed to be a heavenly inspiration, which prompted her to speak of
that unhappy family. Perhaps this was the right moment! She must speak
about Maria, "that precious darling, that sweet little mouse, that dear
little creature!" But alas! The inspiration had come from the devil and
not from Heaven! She had begun to speak, had been going to say how
lovely Maria was, how sweet, and how wonderfully precocious, when that
ugly old woman interrupted her, looking as black as a thunder-cloud.
"Say no more about her, let her alone, Signora Bianconi. I am aware she
is very badly behaved, and indeed one cannot expect her to be
otherwise!" Then Peppina had tried sounding another note, and had
touched upon Uncle Piero's misfortune in having lost his eye. "The Lord
chastises the dishonest, Signora Bianconi." Here Peppina glanced at
Luisa and regretted her chattering. She began caressing her, reproaching
herself for having spoken, and entreated her to be calm. Luisa assured
her that she was perfectly calm, that nothing coming from that source
could surprise her. But Peppina insisted upon giving her a kiss, and
then went her way, murmuring a string of "Oh, dear me's!" and haunted by
a vague suspicion that she had made a mess of it!

Luisa rose and turned to look towards Cressogno, clenching her fists.
"If I only had a horse-whip!" she thought "If I could only lash her!"
The idea of a meeting, the old idea that had made her quiver with
passion four years ago, on the night of her mother's death, had flashed
across her mind shortly before, as she passed Cressogno, and had once
more taken violent possession of her, and now made her start suddenly
downwards. She checked her steps at once, however, and returning slowly,
went towards S. Mamette, stopping every now and then to think, her brow
clouded, her lips tightly compressed, seeking to untangle a knot in the
thread of a scheme she was weaving in her secret heart.

At Casarico she sought out the Professor to offer him an opportunity of
meeting Ester at her house the next day at two o'clock. As she was
leaving she asked him if the Maironi documents were still in his
possession. The Professor, greatly astonished at this question, replied
that they were, expecting an explanation, but Luisa went away without
further words. She was anxious to get home, for she could not rely
either upon Cia or Uncle Piero to look after Maria, and she had little
confidence in the girl to whom she had given notice. She found Maria
alone on the church-place, and scolded Veronica. Then she went to her
room and began a letter to Franco.

She had been writing about five minutes when she heard a gentle tap on
the window of the adjoining room. That window looked out upon a short
flight of steps, leading from the square by the church to some stables,
and thence to a short cut to Albogasio Superiore. Luisa went into the
little room, and saw behind the iron grating the red and distracted
countenance of Barborin Pasotti, who motioned to her to be quiet, and
asked if she had visitors. Upon being reassured, Barborin glanced
swiftly up and down, and hastily descending the steps entered the house
in great trepidation.

Poor woman, she was on forbidden ground, and before her loomed the
spectre of the wrathful Pasotti. Pasotti was in Lugano. "Oh, Lord, yes!
In Lugano." Having imparted this information to Luisa the unhappy woman
began to roll her eyes and squirm. Pasotti had gone to Lugano on account
of the great dinner that was to take place on the morrow--to purchase
provisions. How? Had Luisa not heard about the dinner? Did she not know
who was coming? Why! The Signora Marchesa! The Signora Marchesa Maironi!
Luisa started.

Barborin, misunderstanding the expression of her eyes, thought she read
a reproach there, and began to cry, her face buried in her hands,
shaking those two poor black curls, and saying through her fingers that
she was so distressed about it, so distressed! She would rather have
lived on bread and water for a year than invite the Marchesa to dinner.
This dinner was indeed a cross to her, for it took a deal of thought,
and then there was the trouble of preparing everything, to say nothing
of Pasotti's awful scoldings, but the worst part of it all was the idea
of displeasing Luisa. If, at least, it had been a cross she could lay
at the feet of our Lord, but she could not do that, for it contained too
much wrath. She had come on purpose to tell her Luisa how distressed she
was on account of this dinner.

"Forgive me, Luisa!" she said in her hoarse voice, that seemed to come
out of an ancient and tightly closed spinet. "I really could not prevent
it, indeed I could not, indeed I could not!"

They were seated side by side on the sofa. Barborin drew a great
handkerchief from her pocket and pressed it to her face with one hand,
while with the other she sought Luisa's hand, without turning her head.
But Luisa rose, and going to the writing-desk, scrawled upon a piece of
paper: "When is the Marchesa coming? What road will she take?" Barborin
answered that the dinner was to be at half-past three; that at about
three the Marchesa would leave her gondola at the landing-stage of the
Calcinera, where Pasotti was to meet her with four men and the famous
litter that had belonged to an archbishop of Milan a century ago.

Luisa listened to every detail in silence and with the greatest
attention. Before leaving, Signora Pasotti said she longed to kiss that
love of a Maria, but was afraid the child might not know how to keep the
secret. At this point the good creature plunged her left arm into her
pocket up to the elbow, and drew out a small tin boat, which she begged
Luisa to give to her little daughter in the name of another battered
old craft, whose identity must not be made known. Then she rushed down
stairs and disappeared.

Luisa returned to her letter to Franco, but having thought a long time,
pen in hand, she finally put the letter away again without having added
a word, and drawing the notary's documents towards her, began to copy.
Her resolution was formed. Fate itself was offering her this meeting
with the old wretch. She had neither a doubt nor a scruple. The passion
which had sprung up within her so long ago, which she had caressed and
fostered, had now gathered that strength which, when it reaches its
full, transforms the thought into the deed at one blow, and in such a
manner that all responsibility seems removed from the agent, while in
reality, it is simply carried back to the first inward movement of
yielding to temptation.

Yes, on the morrow, either at the landing-stage, on the Calcinera path,
or on the church-place of the Annunciata, she would stand scornfully
before the Marchesa, openly declaring war, and advising her to have a
care, for now all legitimate weapons of defence were to be used against
her. Yes, she would tell her so, and then she would act, act alone and
unaided, since Franco would take no steps. If Franco had made promises
she had not. A little later she wrote a note to the lawyer V. begging
him to come to her as soon as possible. She wished to learn from him how
to use the documents in Gilardoni's possession. Then she resumed her
copying for the notary at Porlezza.

       *       *       *       *       *

The next day Professor Beniamino arrived at Oria an hour earlier than
the time fixed by Luisa. After Ester's "yes," the man had become
transfigured. He seemed much younger than before. The sallowness of his
skin, now irradiated by a rosy inner light, had entirely disappeared,
and was only perceptible on his bald head, where Luisa daily expected to
see the hair begin to grow. He neither walked nor breathed as before.
But to-day he arrived with a clouded brow.

It was reported at S. Mamette that the physician of Pellio had been
arrested and taken to Como, and that letters and memoranda had been
found in his possession which incriminated others, among whom was Don
Franco Maironi.

"I do not fear for Franco," said Luisa. "As to the rest, my good
Professor, we will set the physician of Pellio, who is a big fellow and
weighs pounds and pounds, down in the score the Emperor of Austria will
have to pay. And now, Professor, I want you to promise me something."

"What do you wish me to promise?"

"I need those famous documents."

"They are at your service."

"Pray note that it is I and not Franco who ask for them."

"Yes, yes. Whatever you do is well done. I will bring you the documents
to-morrow."

"That is right."

Luisa knitted as she talked, her needles clicking continually, but her
seeming calm and good spirits did not entirely conceal her inward
excitement, which had begun on the previous day, had become more intense
during a sleepless night, and was now steadily increasing as the moment
for setting out drew nearer. Even in the playful tone of her voice an
unusual chord seemed to be vibrating. About her hair, which was always
most carefully dressed, there was a something of disorder, like the
touch of a light breath brushing gently across her brow.

Ester arrived at a quarter to two, and explained that she had come a
little earlier because she had heard it thunder. Thunder? Luisa hastened
to the terrace to examine the sky. It certainly did not look very
threatening. Above the point of Cressogno and over Galbiga the sky was
perfectly serene as far as the hills of the Lake of Como. Towards Carona
it was indeed rather dark, but not so very dark, after all. What if the
Marchesa should not come on account of the weather? She seized the
little telescope that was kept in the loggia. There was nothing to be
seen. Of course; it was still too early. In order to reach the Calcinera
at three, the Marchesa, with that heavy gondola of hers, must start at
about half-past two. Luisa went back to the hall, where she found
Ester, the Professor, and Maria. She would have preferred to have Maria
remain in the loggia with Uncle Piero, but Signorina Missipipì always
clung fast to her mother when there were visitors, becoming all eyes and
ears. Luisa decided that when she was ready to start she would send
Maria away, meanwhile she would keep her with her. As to the happy
couple, they were seated apart, and were conversing almost in whispers.

Luisa, who now found it difficult to keep quiet, once more returned to
the terrace, and looked through the telescope. Her heart gave a bound!
The gondola was just coming in sight at the Tentiòn.

It was a quarter-past two o'clock.

Some one coming from Albogasio had stopped in the church-place to speak
to some one coming down the steps at the side of Casa Ribera. They were
saying: "Signor Pasotti has just gone down with the litter. There was a
troop of children following."

Now the sky was overcast, even above the point of Cressogno and the
Galbiga. Only the hills of the Lake of Como were still in the sunshine.
The terrible wind which accompanies a thunderstorm, and which in
Valsolda is called the _Caronasco_, was threatening seriously now. Above
Corona the colour of the clouds was gradually becoming one with the
colour of the hills. The great cloud over Zocca d'i Ment had become
dark blue, and the Boglia was also beginning to knit its brows. The
lake was calm and leaden.

Luisa had decided to start when the gondola should have arrived opposite
S. Mamette. She now returned to the hall.

Maria had obeyed her mother's orders, and had not moved from the chair
where Luisa had left her, but noticing that the Professor was speaking
with animation and at great length to Ester, she had asked:

"Are you telling her a story?"

At this point Luisa entered.

"Yes, dear," said Ester, laughing. "He is telling me a story."

"Oh, tell it to me also! To me also!"

A muffled peal of thunder resounded. "Go, Maria dear," said Ester. "Go
to your room and pray the Lord not to send a terrible thunderstorm or
hail."

"Oh, yes, yes! I will pray to the Lord!"

The little one went out, and entered the alcove-room, serious and
dignified, as if in that moment the safety of the whole Valsolda
depended upon her prayer. Prayer to her was always a solemn matter; it
was a point of contact with mystery which always made her assume a grave
and attentive air, as did also certain tales of enchantment and magic.
She mounted a chair and said the few prayers she knew, and then assumed
the attitude she had seen the most pious women of town assume in church,
and began moving her lips as they did, repeating a wordless prayer.
Seeing her thus one acquainted with the terrible secret of the next hour
would have felt that the guardian angel of little children was standing
beside her at that moment, and admonishing her to pray for something
besides the vineyards and olive-groves of Valsolda, for something nearer
to her, something the angel did not name, and she neither knew nor could
put into words. The onlooker would have felt also that in these, her
inarticulate whisperings, there was an element of occult tenderness, and
tragedy, the docile surrender of a sweet soul to the admonitions of its
guardian angel, to the mysterious will of God.

At half-past two the great lowering clouds above Carona belched forth
another peal of thunder, to which the other great clouds above Boglia
and the Zocca d'i Ment immediately responded. Luisa ran out to the
terrace. The gondola was opposite S. Mamette, and was making straight
for the Calcinera. She could see quite plainly that the boatmen were
pulling hard. As Luisa laid aside the telescope the first gust of wind
swept through the loggia, banging doors and windows. Terrified by a
feeling that she would be too late, she hastily closed both doors and
windows, passed swiftly through the hall, seized an umbrella and went
out, without telling any one she was going, and without closing the
house-door behind her. She started towards Albogasio Inferiore. Just
beyond the cemetery, on the spot they call Mainè, she met Ismaele.

"Where are you going in such weather, Signora Luisa?"

She answered that she was going to Albogasio, and passed on. When she
had gone about a hundred paces she remembered that she had not let
Veronica know she was going out, that she had not told her to close the
windows in the bedrooms, and look after Maria. She might send word by
Ismaele. But he had already disappeared round the corner of the
cemetery. In her heart she felt an impulse to go back, but there was not
time. The rumbling of the thunder was continuous; great, infrequent
drops were striking here and there on the maize; gusts of wind swept at
intervals through the mulberry-trees, forerunners of the whirlwind of
the _Caronasco_. Luisa opened her umbrella and hastened forward.

A furious downpour overtook her in the dark lanes of Albogasio. But she
never thought of taking refuge in a doorway, and pushed on undaunted.
She met a troop of children who were running away from the rain, after
waiting in vain on the church-place of the Annunciata for the passing of
the Marchesa in the litter. While she was crossing the short space
between the town-hall of Albogasio and the church, the wind turned her
umbrella inside out. She began to run, and reached the strip of ground
behind the church that overlooks the path leading down to the
Calcinera. There, protected by the church from the driving rain, she
righted her umbrella as best she could, and looked over the parapet.

The Annunciata rests upon the summit of a cliff, sparsely covered with
brambles and wild fig-trees, which rises from the foot of the Boglia and
juts out over the lake, shutting in the narrow path to Calcinera on the
west. The strip of ground where Luisa stood runs along that part of the
cliff's brow. From here she could have followed the course of the boat
from the waters of Cressogno as far as the landing-stage, but now that
the rain was pouring down in sheets, a white mist hid all things from
view. However, unless the Marchesa returned to Cressogno, she must
certainly pass that way, no matter where she landed, for there, at the
foot of the cliff, where it juts out with the coast, the narrow stairway
starts upwards, leading from the Calcinera to the church-place, and this
is the only way of reaching Albogasio Superiore either from the
landing-stage below, or from S. Mamette, Casarico, or Cadate.

Presently the violence of the downpour lessened, the dark phantoms of
the mountains began to stand out against the white background. Luisa
gazed down at the lake. There was no gondola on the lake, and no litter
on the path; nothing was to be seen. This troubled her. Was it possible
that the gondola had returned to Cressogno? The mist cleared rapidly,
and Cadate became discernible, while at the door of the boathouse of
the "Palazz" the prow of the gondola appeared, shimmering white in the
thin, grey mist. Ah, the Marchesa had taken refuge at the "Palazz," and
Pasotti with his bearers had done the same. The thunderstorm was now
practically over and the litter would soon appear.

But instead, ten long minutes elapsed. Luisa kept her eyes fixed on the
point where the path from Cadate turns into the Calcinera. No movement
of thought was going on within her. Her whole soul was watching and
waiting, that was all. People passed her on the left going up to
Albogasio or coming down, but each time she inclined her umbrella so
that she was hidden from view, so that they might not recognise her,
thus avoiding greetings and conversations.

At last a group of people appeared at the bend of the path. Luisa could
distinguish the litter, and behind the litter Pasotti and Don Giuseppe,
and the Marchesa's boatmen bringing up the rear. Still she did not move,
but followed the litter with her eyes as it slowly advanced. Presently
she closed her umbrella, for the rain had almost ceased. Five or six
children from Albogasio reappeared. She ordered them off sharply. They
hesitated to obey, but a sudden downpour of rain, unaccompanied by wind
or thunder, put them to flight. The litter had now reached the foot of
the steps. Luisa moved forward.

Her eyes glittered coldly, and she held herself very erect. Absorbed in
one thought, she heeded not at all the pelting rain, which beat upon
her head and shoulders, which surrounded her with a misty veil and loud
noise. Perhaps she was glad of this outburst of passion in the elements,
which was in keeping with the passion within her. She went slowly down,
clasping the handle of her closed umbrella very tightly, as if it had
been the handle of a weapon. There is a somewhat sharp bend in the
stairway, and the bottom is not visible until this bend is reached. Upon
arriving there she saw the litter had stopped. The two boatmen were
taking the places of two of the bearers.

Luisa went down as far as the spot where a great walnut-tree spreads its
branches above the stairs. Here she stopped just as the Marchesa's
bearers began coming upwards. Everything was as Luisa wished. Pasotti
and Don Giuseppe, bringing up the rear with open umbrellas, could not
see her. The bearers, on reaching the spot where she stood, would be
obliged to stop to let her pass.

As they drew nearer she recognised the two who carried the front of the
litter; one was Ismaele's brother, the other a cousin of Veronica's.
When they were within a yard or two of her she ordered them, by an
imperious gesture, to stop. They obeyed at once, and set the litter
down, the two other bearers doing the same without knowing why. Pasotti
raised his umbrella, and seeing Luisa, made a movement of astonishment,
frowning blackly. Seizing Don Giuseppe, he drew him aside that she
might pass, never dreaming that the meeting was intentional.

But Luisa did not move. "You did not think of meeting me, did you,
Signor Pasotti?" she said in a loud voice. The Marchesa stuck her head
out, caught sight of her, and withdrew it again, saying, with new
strength in her usually lifeless voice:

"Go on!"

At that moment loud cries rang out from the top of the church-place
above them. "_Sciora_ Luisa! _Sciora_ Luisa!" Luisa did not hear.
Pasotti had called angrily to the bearers: "Go on!" and they had resumed
the poles.

"Go on if you like," said she, resolved to walk along beside the litter.
"I have only a few words to say."

If Pasotti and the old Marchesa had anticipated tears and supplications
this fierce glance and ringing voice must now have led them to expect
something quite different.

"Words at present?" said Pasotti, coming forward almost threateningly.

"_Sciora_ Luisa! _Sciora_ Luisa!" a voice cried close at hand in a tone
of anguish, while with the cries was mingled the noise of hastening
steps. But Luisa did not appear to hear anything. "Yes, at present!" she
said, addressing Pasotti with indescribable haughtiness. "I am generous
enough to wish to warn this lady that----"

"_Sciora_ Luisa!"

This time she was forced to pause and look round. Three or four women
were upon her, distraught, dishevelled, sobbing: "Come home at once!
Come home at once!" These faces, these tears, these voices, detached her
from her passion, from her purpose, at one blow.

She rushed in among the women, exclaiming: "What is the matter?" and
they could only repeat, their eyes starting from their heads: "Come
home, come home at once!"

"But what has happened, you stupid things?"

"The child, the child!"

"Maria? Maria? What is it, what is it?" she shrieked like a mad woman.
Amidst their sobbing she caught the word _lake_, and uttering a great
cry, she dashed them out of her path like a wild beast, and rushed up
the stairs. The women could not keep up with her, but on the
church-place there were others waiting in spite of the rain, and they
were also crying and sobbing.

Luisa felt herself growing faint, and fell to the ground on reaching the
last step.

The women ran to her, many hands seized her and lifted her up. She
shrieked: "Good God! Is she dead?" Some one answered: "No, no!" "The
doctor?" she gasped. "The doctor?" Many voices answered that he was
already there.

Once more she appeared to regain all her energy, and sprang eagerly
forward. Eight or ten people hastened after her, but only two could keep
up with her. She flew! At the cemetery she met Ismaele and another man,
and cried out as soon as she caught sight of them:

"Is she still alive? Is she alive?" Ismaele's companion turned and ran
back to tell them that the mother was coming, but Ismaele was weeping,
and could only answer: "Good God! _Sciora_ Luisa!" as he tried to detain
her. Luisa pushed him wildly aside and rushed on, followed by the
boatman who had now quite lost his head and was calling out to her as
she ran: "Perhaps it is nothing! Perhaps it is nothing, after all!" But
the pelting, ceaseless, even downpour, seemed to be contradicting his
words with its wail.

Gasping for breath, she reached the square by the church of Oria, and
had the strength to call out: "Maria! My Maria!" The window of the
alcove-room was open. She heard Cia crying and Ester chiding her.
Several people, among them Professor Gilardoni, came out to meet her.
The Professor, as pale as a ghost, was weeping silently with clasped
hands. The others whispered: "Courage, there is still hope!" In her
exhaustion she came near falling. The Professor encircled her waist with
one arm and drew her up the stairs, which were crowded with people, as
was also the corridor of the first floor.

As Luisa passed, the Professor almost carrying her, voices laden with
words of comfort murmured: "Courage! Courage! Who can tell? Who can
tell?" At the door of the alcove-room she freed herself from the
Professor's arm, and went in alone.

They had been obliged to light a lamp, because it was already dark in
the alcove, owing to the rain. Poor, sweet little Maria lay naked upon
the bed, her eyes half open, and her lips slightly parted. Her face was
still tinged with pink, but her lips were discoloured and her body was
deathly pale. The doctor, with Ester's help, was trying to induce
artificial breathing, alternately raising the tiny arms above the head
and stretching them along the sides, and compressing the abdomen.

"Doctor! Doctor!" Luisa sobbed.

"We're doing all we can," the doctor answered gravely. She flung herself
face downwards upon her baby's little icy feet, and covered them with
wild kisses. Ester began to tremble. "No, no!" the doctor exclaimed.
"Courage! Courage!" "Help!" shrieked Luisa. The doctor checked her by a
gesture, and motioned to Ester to pause in her work. He bent over
Maria's little face, placed his mouth upon hers and having breathed
deeply several times, raised his head again. "But she is still rosy, she
is still rosy!" Luisa gasped softly. The doctor sighed gently, struck a
match and held it close to Maria's lips.

Three or four women who were praying on their knees, rose and approached
the bed, holding their breath in suspense. The door leading into the
hall was open, and other faces appeared there, all silent and intent.
Luisa, kneeling beside the bed, kept her eyes fixed on the flame. A
voice murmured:

"It quivers!"

Ester, standing very erect behind Luisa, shook her head. The doctor put
out the match. "Hot flannels," he ordered. Luisa rushed from the room,
and the doctor once more resumed the movements of the arms. When Luisa
returned with the hot flannels they began to rub the child's chest and
bowels, he on one side, she on the other. Presently, noting Luisa's
pallor, and the distortion of her features, he motioned to a girl to
take her place. "You must give up," said he, for Luisa had made a
protesting gesture. "Even I am tired. You cannot go on." Luisa shook her
head without speaking and continued her work with convulsive energy. The
doctor silently shrugged his shoulders and raised his eyebrows, and gave
his place to the girl, ordering Ester to bring more flannel with which
to cover the child's legs. Ester went out and herself heated the
flannel, for Veronica, on hearing what had happened, had disappeared and
was nowhere to be found. In the corridor and on the stairs people were
discussing the how and where of the event, and as Ester passed all
inquired: "What news? What news?" Ester made a despairing gesture and
went on without answering. Then the talk once more flowed on in an
undertone.

No one knew how long the child had been in the water. While the
thunderstorm had been raging a certain Toni Gall had happened to be in
the stables behind Casa Ribera. Reflecting that if the engineer's boat
was not tied fast enough it would be dashed to pieces against the walls
of the boathouse, he bounded down the steps, and seeing the door open,
went in. The boat was being frightfully knocked about, and was drenched
with the splashing of the waves that broke against the walls. It was
tossing and writhing among its chains, and had set itself crosswise,
with the stern knocking against the wall. Opposite the door that opens
from the road, there runs a gallery from which two flights of steps lead
down to the water, the first on the side of the prow, the second on the
side of the stern. Toni Gall went down the second flight to tighten the
stern chain. There, between the boat and the lowest step, where the
water is from sixty to seventy centimetres deep, he saw Maria's little
body. She was floating face downwards, with her back above the water. As
he drew her out he saw a little tin boat lying on the bottom. He carried
the child to the house, crying out with his terrible voice, bringing the
whole town to the spot, and fortunately the doctor also, who happened to
be in Oria, and then he helped Ester undress the poor little creature,
who gave no sign of life.

With whom had she been before going down to the lake? Not with Veronica,
for before Luisa went out Veronica had been seen going into the
storeroom where the flowerpots were kept, with her customs-guard. Nor
had she been with Ester and the Professor. Ester had sent her to pray in
the alcove-room, and had not seen her again. Cia had been sewing and
Uncle Piero had been writing when they heard Toni Gall's shouts. Maria
must have gone straight from the alcove-room to the boathouse to sail
her boat, and as ill-luck would have it, she had found both the house
door and the door of the boathouse open. It was Toni Gall's opinion that
she had been in the water several minutes, for she was floating at some
distance from the spot where the little tin boat lay. Standing in the
hall where Cia, the engineer, the Professor, and others from the village
were assembled, he was describing his frightful discovery for the
hundredth time. All save Uncle Piero were sobbing. Seated on the sofa
where Ester and the Professor had sat, he seemed turned to stone. He
shed no tears and spoke never a word. Toni Gall's chattering was
evidently annoying to him, but he held his peace. His noble countenance
was rather solemn and grave than distressed. It was as if the shade of
ancient Destiny had arisen before his eyes. He did not even ask for
news; it was evident he was without hope. And it was also evident that
his sorrow was very different from all this nervous, noisy, fleeting
sorrow that surrounded him. His was the mute, calm grief of the wise and
the strong.

From the open door of the alcove-room came voices now commanding, now
questioning, but for an hour and a half no one could have asserted that
they had heard Luisa's voice. From time to time half-frightened, almost
happy exclamations were heard. Some one in there had thought they
perceived a movement, a breath, the glow of life. Then all who were
outside would press forward. Uncle Piero would turn his face towards the
door, and only at such moments would his expression become slightly
troubled. Alas! Each time he saw the others turn slowly away, in
heartbroken silence. It was past five o'clock now, and as it continued
to rain the light had begun to fade.

Finally, at half-past five, Luisa's voice was heard. She gave a loud and
terrible cry, which froze the blood in the veins of all. The doctor's
voice answered in accents of eager protest. It was whispered that he had
made a gesture which said plainly: "It is hopeless now, let us desist,"
but at her cry he had once more renewed his efforts.

The monotonous lament that the fine rain sent in through all the open
windows made the stillness of the house seem more sepulchral than ever.
The hall and the corridor were growing dark, and the pale candle-light
from the alcove-room seemed brilliant by contrast. People began to go
away silently and on tiptoe, one shadow after another, and presently
steps and hushed voices and the beat of heavy boots were heard on the
pavement of the street below. Cia went softly towards her master, and
asked him in a whisper if he would not eat something. He silenced her
by an imperious gesture.

After seven o'clock, when all outsiders had left save Toni Gall,
Ismaele, the Professor, Ester, and three or four women who were in the
alcove-room, long, low groans, which seemed hardly human, broke the
silence. The doctor came into the hall. It was now quite dark, and he
knocked against a chair. "Is the engineer here?" he asked aloud. "Yes,
sir," Toni Gall replied, and went for a candle. The engineer neither
spoke nor moved.

Toni Gall soon returned with a candle and Dr. Aliprandi--whom I am happy
to recall here as a frank and upright man, possessed of a fine intellect
and a noble heart--approached the sofa where Uncle Piero sat.

"Engineer Ribera," said he with tears in his eyes, "it is time for you
to do something now."

"For me to do something?" said Uncle Piero, raising his eyes.

"Yes. We must at least try to get her away. You must come and speak a
word. You are like a father to her. At such moments as these it is a
father's place to speak."

"Let my master alone," Cia grumbled. "He can't do these things. It would
just be making him miserable to no purpose."

Now pitying voices and kisses mingled with the groans.

The engineer pressed his clenched fists upon the sofa, and remained
motionless for a moment, with bowed head. Then he rose, not without
difficulty, and said to the doctor:

"Must I go alone?"

"Do you wish me to be present?"

"Yes."

"Very well. Our efforts may be of no avail. I should not wish to force
her, but we must, at least, make an attempt."

The doctor dismissed the women who were still in the alcove-room; then,
standing in the doorway, he turned to the engineer and motioned to him
to come in.

"Donna Luisa," said he gently, "here is your uncle, who is coming to
beseech you----"

The old man staggered as he came forward, although his face was
composed. He advanced a few steps and then stopped. Luisa was seated
upon the bed with her dead baby in her arms, holding her tight, kissing
her face and neck, and uttering long, heart-rending groans as she
pressed her lips to the little body.

"Yes, yes, yes," she was saying, with almost a smile of tenderness in
her voice. "It is your uncle, dear, your uncle, who is coming to see his
little treasure, his little Maria, his little Missipipì, who loves him
so much! Yes, yes, yes!"

"Luisa," said Uncle Piero, "you must control yourself. Everything that
could be done has been done. Now come with me--don't remain here any
longer--come with me."

"Uncle, Uncle!" cried Luisa, in a voice full of tenderness but without
looking towards him, while she pressed the little dead body to her
breast and rocked backwards and forwards. "Come here! Come here to your
Maria! Come! Come to us, for you are our uncle, our dear uncle! No,
dear, no, dear! Our uncle will not forsake us."

Uncle Piero shuddered. His grief overwhelmed him for a moment, and
wrenched a sob from him.

"Let her rest!" he murmured in a stifled voice. She did not appear to
hear him, and continued: "We will go to our uncle, dear, you and I. Do
you want to go to him, Maria? Yes, yes! Let us go!" She slid from the
bed to the floor and went to Uncle Piero. Clutching her sweet, dead
burden to her breast with one arm, she threw the other about the old
man's neck, and whispered: "A kiss, a kiss, for your little Missipipì.
One kiss, only one!"

Uncle Piero bent down and kissed the little face, already sadly ravaged
by death, wetting it with two great tears.

"Look, look, Uncle!" she said. "Doctor, bring the candle! Yes, yes!
Don't be cruel, doctor. Look, Uncle! See what a little treasure she is,
doctor!"

Aliprandi hesitated, and tried to resist her appeals, but in this mad
grief there was something sacred, something that must be respected. He
obeyed, and raising the candle, held it close to the tiny corpse, that
was intensely pitiful with its half-open eyes and dilated pupils, this
little corpse that had once been Maria, sweet little Missipipì, the old
man's delight, the smile and the love of the house.

"Look at this tiny breast, Uncle. See how we have abused it, poor
treasure, how we have hurt it with all our rubbing. It was your mamma,
Maria darling! Your horrid mamma, and that wicked doctor there."

"Enough!" said the doctor resolutely, setting the candle on the
writing-desk. "Talk to your child if you will, but not to this one. Talk
to the one in Heaven."

The effect of his words was terrible. All tenderness vanished from
Luisa's face. She drew back, frowning fiercely, and pressing her dead
child closer to her breast. "No!" she cried aloud. "No, not in Heaven!
She is mine! She is mine! God is wicked! I will not give her to Him!"

She drew ever farther back, back into the alcove, where, standing
between the great bed and the little one, she once more began uttering
those low groans which did not seem human. Aliprandi sent the trembling
old man out of the room. "It will pass! It will pass!" he said. "We must
have patience. I will stay with her now." Ismaele came into the hall and
drew the Professor aside.

"Has Signor Don Franco been informed?" he asked.

They consulted the uncle and it was decided that a telegram in Uncle
Piero's name, and announcing serious illness, should be sent from Lugano
the next morning, for it was now too late. There was some one else in
the hall. Poor Barborin Pasotti, who had hastened thither while her
husband was absent escorting the Marchesa back to Cressogno. She was
sobbing, and in despair because she had given Maria the little boat. She
wished to go to Luisa, but the doctor, hearing loud crying, came out and
begged her to be calm and silent. Barborin went to cry in the loggia.
The Curate, Don Brazzova, and the Prefect of the Caravina, who had been
dining at Casa Pasotti, had accompanied Barborin. Later the Curate of
Castello, Intrioni, arrived, weeping like a child. He was determined to
go to Luisa in spite of the doctor's protests, and knelt in the centre
of the room, entreating her to give her baby to the Lord. "Listen,
Signora Luisa, listen. If you will not give her to God, give her to her
grandmother Teresa, to your own dear mother who will be so happy to have
her with her in Heaven."

Luisa was touched, not by his words, but by his grief, and answered
gently: "Can you not understand that I do not believe in your Heaven? My
Heaven is here!"

Aliprandi made a gesture of entreaty to the Curate, who went out,
sobbing.

       *       *       *       *       *

The doctor left Oria towards midnight with the Professor. The whole
house was quiet, nor was any voice to be heard in the alcove-room.
Aliprandi had spent the last two hours in the hall with the Professor
and Ester, and not a single cry, not a groan, nor any movement had he
heard. He had gone twice to look in. Luisa was sitting on the edge of
her bed, her elbows on her knees and her face in her hands,
contemplating the little bed which Aliprandi could not see. This state
of immobility caused him more anxiety than the state of intense
excitement that had preceded it. As Ester was going to remain all night
he advised her to try and rouse her friend, to make her talk and weep.

Some women from the village were to watch with Ester, and Ismaele would
be there until five o'clock, when he must start for Lugano. Uncle Piero
had gone to bed.

Aliprandi and the Professor stopped on the square by the church to look
at the lighted window of the alcove-room, and to listen. Silence.
"Accursed lake!" the physician exclaimed, taking his companion's arm and
once more starting forward. He was certainly thinking of the sweet
little creature the lake had killed when he uttered the words, but in
his heart there was also a great fear that other troubles might be
approaching, that the treacherous waters had not yet done their worst;
and he was overwhelmed with pity for the poor father, who, as yet, knew
nothing.



CHAPTER XI

SHADOWS AND DAWN


On receiving the telegram Franco at once hastened to the office of the
_Opinione_, in Via della Rocca. Perceiving his agitation, Dina said:
"Ah! then you already know?" Franco's blood ran cold, but on hearing
about the telegram Dina exhibited great surprise. No, no, of that he
knew nothing. Information had reached him from the Prime Minister that
the Austrian police had been searching houses and making arrests in
Vall' Intelvi, and that among the papers of a certain doctor there was
one in which the name of Don Franco Maironi was mentioned, with
particulars of a compromising nature. Dina added that at a moment of
such great anguish for a father, he would refrain from going into an
explanation of Count Cavour's interest in him; suffice it to say that he
himself had mentioned Franco to the Count, who had expressed his regret
that a Lombard gentleman, bearing such a distinguished name, should be
obliged to live in such straitened and obscure circumstances in Turin.
Dina believed it was his intention to offer him a position in the
Foreign Office. Now, of course, Franco must go. But the little girl
would recover and he must return as soon as possible. Meanwhile he would
stop at Lugano, would he not? He must, at least, await news there, and
unless it became absolutely necessary, he must not venture into
Lombardy. After this affair at Vall' Intelvi it would be extremely
imprudent. As Franco remained silent, the director once more broached
the subject before bidding him good-bye. "Be prudent! Don't let them
take you!" But Franco would not answer.

Ever since the receipt of the telegram Franco had walked the streets of
Turin like one in a dream, deaf to the noise of his own footsteps,
unconscious of what he saw, of what he heard, going mechanically
wherever it was necessary for him to go at this juncture, wherever a
certain servile and lower faculty of the soul might lead him, that
faculty composed of reason and of instinct, which is capable of guiding
us through a labyrinth of city streets, while the mind, concentrated
upon some problem, some passion, takes no heed of our movements. He sold
his watch and chain to a watchmaker of Doragrossa for one hundred and
thirty-five lire, purchased a doll for Maria, stopped at Café Alfieri
and Café Florio to leave word for his friends, and was at the station by
eleven o'clock, although the train for Novara which he was to take did
not start until half-past eleven. At a quarter-past the Paduan and the
young man from Udine appeared. They endeavoured to encourage him with
all sorts of rosy suppositions and unconvincing arguments, but he
answered never a word and only longed intensely for the moment of
departure, longed to be alone, to be hastening towards Oria, for he was
determined to go to Oria, no matter how great the danger might be. He
entered a third-class carriage, and when the locomotive whistled and the
train began to move, he heaved a great sigh of relief, and gave himself
up entirely to thoughts of Maria. But there were too many people about
him, they were too many, too rough, and too noisy. At Chivasso, feeling
he could no longer bear their chattering and laughter, he changed into
an empty second-class carriage, where he began to talk aloud, his eyes
fixed on the opposite seat.

Good God! why had they not added another word to the telegram? Just one
word more! At least the name of the illness.

A terrible name flashed across his brain: Croup! He gasped with horror,
and threw out his arms against this phantom, his muscles suddenly
stiffening, then, letting his arms sink once more, he heaved a sigh so
deep that it seemed to expel the very soul, even life itself, from his
breast. It must indeed be a sudden illness, or Luisa would have written.
Another name flashed across his mind. Brain-fever! He himself had been
at the point of death with brain-fever when a child. Oh God! oh God! It
must be that! God Himself had sent this thought to him. He was shaken
by tearless sobbing. Maria, his treasure, his love, his joy! Yes,
indeed it must be that. He could see her gasping, flushed, watched over
by her mother and the doctor. In a moment he pictured to himself long
hours spent by her bedside, long hours of anguish, then he pictured the
birth of hope, heard the first whisper of that sweet voice:

"Papa! my papa!"

He started to his feet, clasping and wringing his hands in a mute
impulse of prayer. Presently he sank back into his seat again,
exhausted, and turned unseeing eyes upon the flying landscape, vaguely
conscious of some connection between the misty Alps looming motionless
there against the northern horizon and the thought that dominated him,
looming motionless and torpid within his soul. From time to time the
jolting of the train would rouse him from his stupor, suggesting the
idea of a painful race, stimulating his heart to rush, to beat thus
also. Sometimes he would close his eyes, the better to picture his
arrival at home. Images would at once rise from his heart to his
eyelids, but they were always changing, continually moving, and he could
not hold them for more than a second. Now it was Luisa hastening towards
him on the stairs; now the uncle holding out his arms to him from the
door of the hall; now Dr. Aliprandi who was opening the door of the
alcove-room to him, and saying: "She is better, she is better!" Now in
the darkened room, filled with shadows, it was Maria herself who gazed
at him with glassy, feverish eyes.

When he reached Vercelli, he felt as if he were a thousand miles from
Turin, and once more awoke to a sense of reality. How should he get from
Lugano to Oria? What route should he take? Should he go openly by the
lake, showing himself at the Custom-House? And what if they would not
allow him to proceed because his passport had not been stamped on
leaving Italy as the law demanded? Or, worse still, what if a warrant of
arrest be out against him on account of those papers taken from the
doctor at Pellio? He had better keep to the hills. They might arrest him
later, but with his knowledge of the neighbourhood, acquired on his many
hunting expeditions in 1848, he was almost sure of reaching home. This
wearisome task of planning and arranging absorbed his attention for some
time, and kept him occupied until he had passed Arona, on the Lake
Maggiore steamer. He had arranged to reach Lugano in the middle of the
night. Would there be some one there to meet him? If there were no one
there, perhaps he might hear something at the Fontana pharmacy, where
the Valsolda people were in the habit of congregating. If God would only
permit reassuring news to reach him at Lugano he would postpone decision
as to his journey to Oria until the morrow. He therefore determined to
make no plans before reaching Lugano, and he prayed fervently that the
Almighty would allow this good news to reach him. The sky was overcast;
the mountains had already assumed their sad autumnal tints; a thin mist
hung over the lake; the bells of Meina were ringing; on the steamer
there were but few passengers, and Franco's prayer died in his heart,
stifled by a crushing sadness, while his eyes unconsciously followed a
flock of white gulls, that were winging their flight towards the distant
waters of Laveno, towards that hidden country where his soul was.

It was past seven when he reached Magadino. He climbed Monte Ceneri on
foot, following the path that leads to the road-mender's house, took a
carriage at Bironico and reached Lugano shortly after midnight. He
alighted in the Piazza, near Café Terreni. The coffee-house was closed,
the square was deserted and dark, and silence reigned; even the lake,
which could be seen gently rising and falling in the gloom, was silent.
Franco paused a moment on the shore, hoping that some one had come to
meet him, and would presently appear. He could not see Valsolda, hidden
behind Monte Brè, but that same water mirrored Oria, and slept in the
boathouse at home. A wave of peace eased his heart somewhat; he felt he
was among things familiar to him. Every human voice was hushed, but the
great, dark hills spoke to him, Monte Caprino and the Zocca d'i Ment
more than all, for they overlooked Oria. They spoke gently to him,
suggesting comfort-bringing thoughts. Nineteen hours had passed since
the telegram was sent. All danger might now be over.

As no one appeared he went to the Fontana pharmacy, and rang the bell.
For many years he had known that most worthy, cordial, and honest man,
Signor Carlo Fontana, who has now passed away with the world of long
ago. Signor Carlo came to the window, and was greatly surprised to see
Don Franco. He had no news from Oria. He had spent the last two days at
Tesserete, and had returned only a few hours before, so could tell him
nothing. His assistant had started for Bellinzona that evening. Franco
thanked him and walked away in the direction of Villa Ciani, for he was
now determined to go to Oria at once.

Two routes were open to him. He could either climb the Swiss slope of
the Boglia from Pregassona, strike the heights of Bolla; cross the Pian
Biscagno and the great beech wood, coming out at the venerable
beech-tree of the Madonnina on the brow of the hill which slopes down
into Lombardy, and then drop down on to Albogasio Superiore and Oria; or
he could take the easy Gandria road, leading towards the lake, and then
follow that treacherous and dangerous path which starts from Gandria,
the last Swiss village, cuts along the face of the almost perpendicular
cliff, crosses the frontier some hundred metres above the lake, runs on
to the Origa farm, drops into the ravine of Val Malghera, rising once
more to the Rooch farm, where it joins the paved way which passes above
Niscicoree and finally leads down to Oria. The first route was much
longer and far more difficult, but it afforded a better chance of
eluding the vigilance of the guards at the frontier. On leaving the
Fontana pharmacy Franco had been fully determined to go that way, but
when, on reaching Cassarago, where the roads to Pregassona and to
Gandria meet, he saw how near the point of Castagnola was, and reflected
that it would take him less than half an hour to go from Castagnola to
Gandria, and that another hour and a half would take him from Gandria to
Oria, the idea of climbing the Boglia, of walking seven or eight hours,
became intolerable to him. Besides, if he went by the Boglia he would
arrive in the daytime, and this, of course, would jeopardise his safety.
He turned his face resolutely towards Castagnola and Gandria. The sky
was now completely overcast with heavy clouds. Beneath the great
chestnut trees that line the road to Castagnola, he could not see where
to set his feet, but how much worse it would have been in the great
beech forest of the Boglia if Franco had chosen that route. It was just
as dark in Castagnola, and worse in the labyrinth of narrow lanes at
Gandria. After wandering backwards and forwards among these lanes for
some time, always mistaking his way, Franco at last found himself on the
path leading to the frontier, and stopped to rest. Before starting
forward again in the impenetrable darkness, before braving the dangers
of a difficult path, and of a meeting with the Austrian guards, and then
facing another terrifying step, that of entering his house, of putting
the first question, of listening to the first answer, he raised his
heart to God, and concentrated all the powers of his mind upon a
determination to be strong and calm.

Once more he started forward. Now he must give his whole attention to
the path, in order not to fall or lose his way. The little fields of
Gandria soon come to an end. Then wild tracts follow, that jut out over
the lake, and are covered with a thick growth of low bushes; then come
ravines with crumbling sides, that go tumbling straight downwards, and
are half hidden by the bushes. In such places as these Franco was
obliged to feel his way blindly, to cling first to one branch, then to
another, plunging his face in among the leaves, that, at least, smelt of
Valsolda, and dragging himself from bush to bush. He must explore the
ground with his foot, trembling lest it give way beneath him, and
seeking for traces of the path. The bundle he carried was small, but
nevertheless it embarrassed him. The rustling of the foliage as he
brushed past, irritated him; it seemed as if it must be heard a long way
off, on the hills and on the lake, in the solemn hush of the night. Then
he would stop and listen. He could hear only the distant thundering of
the falls at Rescia, the hooting of owls in the woods over yonder,
across the lake, and from time to time, far below, a sharp stroke on the
water, for which he could not account. It took him quite an hour to
reach the frontier. There, between the Valle del Confine and the Val
Malghera, the forest had been recently cut down, and the rocky slope was
bare. This enhanced both the danger of falling, and that of discovery.
He crossed this tract very slowly, often pausing, sometimes crawling on
hands and knees. Before reaching Oria he heard the faint dip of oars far
below. He knew the customs-guards' boat sometimes passed the shore of
Val Malghera at night. Surely these were the guards. Beneath the
chestnut trees of Origa he breathed freely once more. There he was
hidden, and could walk noiselessly on the grass. He descended the
western slope of Val Malghera and climbed up the other side without
encountering any obstacles. On approaching Rooch his heart beat
furiously. Rooch is a sort of outpost of Oria. There the little path
ends that he had so often followed with Luisa on mild winter afternoons,
gathering violets and laurel leaves, and talking of the future. He
remembered that the last time, they had had a discussion concerning the
most desirable husband for Maria, and the qualities he must possess.
Franco had hoped he would be a country gentleman, but Luisa had been in
favour of a civil engineer.

Rooch is a little farmhouse perched above a few small fields which lie
terraced against the hillside, and form a small, light clearing among
the surrounding woods. The stable, a room above it, a small portico in
front of the stable, a cistern under the portico--that is all. The
little portico is just above the narrow paved way that passes some two
or three metres below. It is only a few steps from the comb of the
ravine of Val Malghera, to Rooch. Having reached the comb, Franco heard
low voices in the farmhouse.

He paused and drawing aside, stretched himself, face downwards, upon the
grass, beyond the path, and near a cluster of low chestnut trees. The
voices became silent, but he heard a man's steps coming rapidly towards
him; he lay quite still, holding his breath. The man stopped almost at
his side, waited a moment, and then slowly retraced his steps, saying in
a loud voice, with a foreign accent: "There is no one here, it must have
been a fox."

The guards! A long silence followed, during which Franco did not dare to
move. The guards once more began to talk, and he decided to crawl
noiselessly backwards, to drop down into Val Malghera and pass behind
and above the house. Slowly, very slowly he pulled off his boots. He was
about to move when he heard two or three guards leave the farmhouse,
talking as they came towards him. He heard one of them say: "Is no one
going to stay here?" and another answered: "It is not necessary."

Four guards brushed past him without noticing him. They certainly had
no suspicions, for they were talking unconcernedly. One was saying that
a person may remain ten minutes under water without drowning; but
another maintained that five minutes is long enough to cause death. The
fourth passed him in silence, but hardly had he done so when he stopped.
Franco shuddered upon hearing him strike a match. He lit his pipe,
puffed at it two or three times, and then called out to his companions
in a loud voice, for they had already gone some way down the slope of
Val Malghera.

"How old was she?"

One of the others answered, louder still:

"Three years and one month."

Then the fourth guard puffed twice more and started forward. Three years
and one month! Maria's age! Franco, lying on his face, raised himself
upon his elbows, clutching convulsively at the grass. The noise of the
steps died away down below in Val Malghera.

"My God! My God!" he cried. Rising to his knees he repeated the terrible
words in his heart, slowly, as if stupefied. "_She was!_" He wrung his
hands, moaning once more: "My God! My God!"

After this he was hardly conscious of his movements. He went down to
Oria with the vague sensation of having grown suddenly deaf, and his arm
which clasped the doll trembled violently. Reaching the Madonna del
Romit he crossed the town, and instead of going down by the Pomodoro
stairway he followed the path that joins the short cut to Albogasio
Superiore, and descended those same stairs that Barborin Pasotti had
descended the day before the catastrophe. On the wall of the church he
noticed a pale light which was reflected from the alcove-room. He
neither paused beneath the window, nor called out, but stepped under the
porch and tried the door.

It was open.

From the coolness of the night he passed into a heavy, close atmosphere,
laden with the unfamiliar odour of burnt vinegar and incense. With
difficulty he dragged himself up the stairs. Before him, on the landing,
half-way up, light fell from above. On reaching the spot he saw that the
light came from the alcove-room. He went on and presently stood in the
corridor. The door of the room was wide open; there must be many candles
burning in there. Mingled with the odour of incense he recognised the
perfume of flowers, and began to tremble so violently that he could not
go on. No sound reached him from the room. Suddenly he heard Luisa's
voice, speaking tenderly, quietly: "Do you want me to go where you are
going to-morrow, Maria? Do you want your mamma under the ground with
you?" "Luisa! Luisa!" sobbed Franco, and they found themselves in each
others' arms, on the threshold of their nuptial chamber, where the
memory of their love was still alive, but where its sweet fruit lay
dead.

"Come, dear. Come in," said she, and drew him forward. In the centre of
the room, between four lighted candles, stood the little open coffin, in
which lay poor Maria, under a mound of flowers, broken and wilted like
herself. There were roses, heliotrope, jasmine, begonia, geraniums,
verbena, flowering sprays of _olea fragrans_, and other blossomless
sprays, all dark and shiny, from the carob tree she had loved so well,
because it had been dear to papa. Flowers and leaves lay across her face
as well.

Franco fell upon his knees sobbing: "My God! My God!" while Luisa chose
two tiny rosebuds, placed them in Maria's little hand, and kissed her
brow.

"You can kiss her hair," said she, "but not her face. The doctor does
not wish it."

"But you have just done so!"

"Oh, it is a different thing for me."

But instead he pressed his lips to her icy lips, that showed among the
geraniums and the carob leaves, touching them gently, as in a tender,
but not despairing farewell to the outward wrapping now cast aside and
empty, which had once belonged to his beloved baby, who had gone to
dwell elsewhere.

"Maria! My darling Maria!" he whispered between his sobs. "What was the
matter?"

He had not realised the connection between the guards' talk about
drowning and the rest of their conversation.

"You have not heard?" said his wife calmly, and without surprise. They
had told her how the telegram had been worded, but she was also aware
that Ismaele was to have met Franco in Lugano. She did not know,
however, that as Franco had not arrived by the coach from Ceneri,
Ismaele had gone to bed.

"Poor Franco!" said she, kissing his hair almost maternally. "There was
no illness."

He started to his feet, terrified, and exclaiming: "What do you mean?
There was no illness?"

Leu, the person whom Franco had heard breathing heavily in her sleep,
now came in with the intention of fumigating the room, but seeing Franco
she stopped in amazement. "Come in," said Luisa. "You may place the
brazier outside the door; sprinkle whatever is necessary upon it, and
then return to the kitchen and sleep, my good Leu." The woman obeyed.

"There was no illness?" Franco repeated.

"Come," his wife answered. "I will tell you everything."

She made him sit down on the _dormeuse_ at the foot of their bed. He
wished her to sit beside him, but she made a gesture of refusal, and of
entreaty that he should not insist, that he should be quiet and wait;
then, sinking down on the floor beside her baby, she began the painful
story in a low, even voice, that sounded almost indifferent to the
tragedy it was relating, a voice that resembled poor, deaf Barborin's,
seeming to come from a far-away world. She began with her meeting with
Peppina Bianconi at Campo, and--always in the same calm tone--told him
all the thoughts, all the sentiments that had brought her to confront
his grandmother, told him everything, down to the moment when she had
realised that Maria was indeed dead. When she had finished she rose to
her knees, and kissing her dead child, whispered to her: "Now your papa
thinks that I killed you, but it is not true, dear, indeed, it is not
true!"

He rose, quivering with nameless emotion, and bending over her, raised
her--neither yielding nor resisting--from the floor. Touching her
resolutely but tenderly, he placed her on the _dormeuse_ beside him. He
encircled her shoulders with his arm, pressing her to him, speaking with
his lips on her hair, wetting it with the hot tears, which from time to
time choked his voice. "My poor Luisa! No, indeed you did not kill her!
How could you suspect me of thinking such a thing? I bless you instead
for all that you have done for her ever since she came into the world;
I, who have done nothing, bless you who have done so much. Never say
such a thing again! Never, dear. Our Maria----"

A violent sob checked his words, but the man immediately exerted his
strong will, controlled himself and continued:

"Don't you know what our Maria is saying now? She is saying: 'My darling
mamma, my darling papa, now you are all alone, you have only each
other, you are more closely united than ever; give me to God that He may
give me back to you; that I may become your little guardian angel, and
lead you to Him at last, that we may dwell together in all eternity,' Do
you hear her saying these words, Luisa?"

She trembled in his arms, shaken by spasmodic quiverings; her face bent
low, resisted Franco when he would have raised it. At last she took his
hand and kissed it. Then he also kissed her on the hair, and murmured:
"Answer me."

"You are good!" Luisa replied, in a faint and despairing voice. "You
wish to spare me, but you do not believe what you say. You must feel
that I caused her death, that if I had adopted your sentiments, your
ideas, I should not have left the house, and if I had not left the house
this would not have happened, and Maria would still be alive."

"Don't think of that, my dear, don't! You might have believed Maria was
with Veronica; you might have remained in the room with the fiancés, and
the accident would have happened just the same. Don't think of this any
more, Luisa. Rather listen to what Maria is saying."

"Poor Franco! Poor, poor fellow!" said Luisa, with such bitterness of
terrible hidden meanings, that his blood ran cold. He shuddered and was
silent, unable to grasp her meaning, and at the same time dreading an
explanation. Slowly they withdrew from each other's arms, Luisa being
the first to move. She again took her husband's hand and wished to
carry it to her lips, but Franco drew her hand tenderly towards him and
made a last attempt.

"Why will you not answer me?"

"I should hurt you too much," she murmured.

He began to realise the irreparable ruin of her soul, and was silent. He
did not withdraw his hand, but felt his strength deserting him, felt
darkness and icy cold creeping over him, as if Maria, whom he had evoked
in vain, had died a second time. Anguish, fatigue, the heavy atmosphere,
the mingled odours of the room, affected him so strongly that he was
obliged to go out, or he would have fainted.

He went to the loggia. The windows were open and the sweet, fresh air
restored him. Out there in the dark he wept for his little daughter
unrestrainedly, without even that restraint which light imposes. He
knelt by one of the windows, crossed his arms on his breast and wept,
his face raised towards heaven, tears and words flowing together,
disjointed words of anguish and of faith, calling out to God for help,
to God, to God who had dealt him the blow. With streaming eyes he cried
out, begging that his tears might continue to flow, confessing that he
knew full well why the child had died. Had he not prayed again and again
that God would preserve her from the danger of losing her faith through
her mother's influence? Ah! that last night! That last night when Maria
had said to him: "Darling papa, a kiss!" and so many other tender
things, and would not let go his hand, how he had prayed! The memory of
it was a terror, a joy, a spasm to him. "Lord, Lord!" said he, gazing
heavenward. "Thou wert silent, but my voice reached Thee. Thou hast
answered my prayer in Thine own mysterious way. Thou hast taken my
treasure to Thyself, she is safe, she is happy, she awaits me. Thou wilt
reunite us." The fast-falling tears that accompanied his last words had
no bitter taste, but presently, while thinking once more of that last
night, he was bitterly sorry he had left Maria without telling her that
he had deceived her. "Maria, my own Maria!" he entreated, weeping,
"forgive me!" Good God! it seemed impossible that all this could be
true; it seemed impossible that if he went into the alcove-room he
should not find her there asleep in her little bed, her head drooping
towards her shoulder and her tiny hands resting, palms upward, upon the
sheet. Indeed she was still there, but----! Oh! how awful it all was!
Surely his tears would never end.

Leu came in bringing a light and a cup of coffee. The Signora had sent
her. He felt a thrill of tender gratitude towards his wife. Good God!
Poor Luisa! How hopeless was her grief! And what an awful semblance of
punishment for her in the blow which had fallen upon her at that very
moment, that very moment! She herself had realised that he must think
this, and he did indeed think it, but had denied his thought in order
to spare her, and this she had also realised. And was this awful
semblance of punishment destined not to bear any fruit whatsoever? She
seemed to shrink from God more than ever now, and who could tell how far
she might wander! Poor, poor Luisa! It was not Maria he should pray for,
Maria did not need his prayers. He must pray for Luisa, pray night and
day, trusting also in the prayers of the precious little soul now hidden
in God.

He talked with Leu, feeling more calm now, and had her tell him all she
had seen, all she had heard of this terrible event. "The Lord wanted
your little child for Himself," said Leu at last. "If you could only
have seen her in church, with her little folded hands and her serious
little face! She looked just like an angel. Indeed she did." Then she
asked Franco if she should leave the light. No, he preferred to be in
the dark. At what time was the funeral to take place? At eight o'clock,
Leu thought. When Leu once began talking it was always hard for her to
leave off, and perhaps now she was afraid of staying in the kitchen all
alone. "Her papa!" she added, before going out. "Her dear papa! It isn't
more than a week ago that I came here with some chestnuts for the
Signora, and that blessed little creature, who spoke so well, for all
the world like a lawyer, said to me: 'Do you know, Leu, my papa is
coming to Lugano very soon, and I am going to see him.' Oh, dear! What a
dreadful thing!"

His tears flowed afresh. Ah, God had taken the child to save her from
the errors of the world. God had punished Luisa for her errors, but was
not this awful punishment intended for him also? Was he not guilty also?
Ah, yes! Very, very guilty! A clear vision of his past life rose before
him, his life, barren of all useful labour, full of vanities,
corresponding ill with the beliefs he professed, a life which rendered
him responsible for Luisa's unbelief. The world accounted him virtuous
for certain qualities he possessed through no merit of his own, for they
were inborn in him, and he felt that for this very reason God's judgment
of him must be doubly severe; for God had endowed him richly, and he had
gathered no fruit. Once more he fell upon his knees and humbly accepted
his punishment, in the desolate contrition of his heart, in his burning
desire to expiate, to purify himself, to become worthy of re-union with
Maria at last.

A long, long time he prayed and wept. At last he went out to the
terrace. Above Galbiga and the hills of the Lake of Como the sky was
growing light; day was breaking. From neighbouring Boglia a cold north
wind was blowing. From far and near, from the lake shore, from the lofty
bosom of the valley, bells rang out. The thought that Maria and
Grandmother Teresa were together and happy, rose suddenly, clear and
sweet in Franco's heart. It seemed to him the Lord was saying to him: "I
afflict thee, but I love thee. Wait, be steadfast, and thou shalt
know." The bells chimed far and near, from the lake shore and from the
lofty bosom of the valley. The sky grew ever brighter above Galbiga and
towards the Lake of Como, along the steep, black profile of the Picco di
Cressogno; and the sweep of smooth water down there in the East, between
the great shadows of the mountains, was like a shining pearl. The sprays
of the passion-flower vine, touched by the north wind, waved silently
above Franco's head, in quivering anticipation of the light, of the
immense glory that was rising out of the east, colouring clouds and
clear sky with itself, and welcomed by the bells.

To live, to live, to work, suffer, adore, and ascend! That was what the
light demanded! He must carry the living away in his arms, carry the
dead away in his heart, return to Turin, work for Italy, die for her!
The dawning day demanded this. Italy! Italy! Beloved Mother! Franco
clasped his hands in a transport of desire.

Luisa heard the bells also. She wished that she might not have heard
them, wished that day might never dawn, bringing with it the hour in
which Maria must be consigned to the grave. On her knees beside her
baby's little body she promised her that every day of her life she would
come and talk to her, bring her flowers, and bear her company; morning
and evening she would come. Then she sank down and gave herself up to
those dark thoughts which she had not wished to confess to her husband,
and which had grown and matured in her during the last twenty-four
hours, as a malignant infection of remote origin which has lain dormant
in the system, being caught up at last in the current of the blood,
suddenly bursts forth with overwhelming violence.

All her religious views, her faith in the existence of God, her
scepticism concerning the immortality of the soul were tending towards
subversion. She was convinced that she was in no way responsible for
Maria's death. If indeed there did exist an Intelligence, a Will, a
Power which was master of men and of things, then the monstrous guilt
was of this Intelligence, which had coldly pre-ordained Barborin
Passotti's visit and gift; had withdrawn Maria from those who should
have watched over her in her mother's absence; had lured her,
defenceless, towards destruction; had killed her. That same Power had
checked her, the mother, when she had been about to perform an act of
justice. Fool that she was, ever to have believed in Divine Justice!
There was no such thing as Divine Justice! Instead there was the altar
allied to the throne; the Austrian God, a party to all injustice, all
tyranny, author of suffering, and of evil, slayer of the innocent and
protector of the wicked. Ah! if such a God did indeed exist, it were
better that Maria be there in that body, better that no part of her
should live on to fall into the toils of this fiendish Omnipotence!

But it was possible to doubt the existence of this horrible God. And if
He did not exist we might desire that a part of a human being should
continue to live beyond the grave, live not miraculously, but naturally.
That was perhaps easier to conceive than the existence of an invisible
tyrant, of a Creator who was cruel to the beings of His own creation.
The rule of nature without God was certainly preferable; better a blind
master, who was not our enemy, not deliberately cruel. But henceforth,
at least, no thought must be wasted in any way, either in this life or
in the next--if, indeed, the next exist--upon that vain phantom,
Justice!

The faint light of dawn mingled with her thoughts as it had mingled with
Franco's thoughts, solemn and consoling to him, hateful to her. He, the
Christian, meditated an insurrection of wrath and of arms against
brothers in Christ, for love of a dot upon the surface of one of
Heaven's orbs; she meditated an immense rebellion, the liberation of the
Universe. Her thought might be the greater, her intellect might appear
the stronger, but he whom the human generations learn to know even
better as they advance in civilisation and science; He who allows each
generation to honour Him according to its strength, and who gradually
transforms and raises the ideals of the nations, making use even of
inferior and fleeting ideals, when He deems it opportune, in His
government of the world; He who, being Peace and Life, has allowed
Himself to be called the God of armies, had impressed the sign of His
judgment upon the face of the woman and upon the face of the man. While
dawn burned into the glory of sunrise, Franco's brow became ever more
brightly illumined by a light from within, and through his tears his
eyes shone with the vigour of life; but Luisa's brow grew ever darker,
and from the depths, the shadows mounted to her dull eyes.

       *       *       *       *       *

As the sun rose a boat came in sight off the point of Caravina. It
brought the lawyer, V., who had come from Varenna in obedience to
Luisa's call.



CHAPTER XII

PHANTOMS


On the evening of that same day a numerous company assembled in the
Marchesa's red drawing-room. Pasotti had brought his unlucky wife by
main force, and he had brought Signor Giacomo Puttini also, although
that gentleman had held out for some time against the most gracious
Controller's despotic caprices. The curate of Puria and Paolin had also
put in an appearance, both being anxious to observe the effects of the
tragedy on the old lady's marble countenance. Paolin of course dragged
the worthy Paolon in his wake, he being still in a state of limp and
sheepish resistance. The curate of Cima, who was devoted to the
Marchesa, came also, as did the prefect of Caravina, whose heart really
belonged to Franco and Luisa, but who, as parish-priest of Cressogno,
was bound to treat their enemy with a certain amount of consideration.

She received them all with her usual impassive expression, with her
usual calm greeting. Signora Barborin, who had been cautioned by her
master against alluding to the event at Oria, was made to sit on the
sofa beside her hostess, who graciously accepted the homage of the
others, put the usual questions to Paolin and Paolon concerning their
respective consorts, and having satisfied herself that both Paolina and
Paolona were enjoying the best of health, she folded her hands over her
stomach and relapsed into dignified silence, her courtiers forming a
semicircle around her. Pasotti, noting the absence of Friend, inquired
for him with obsequious solicitude. "And Friend? Dear little Friend?"
Although, had he had him in his clutches--_solus cum solo_--the nasty,
little snarling beast which worried his trousers and his wife's skirts,
he would have joyfully wrung his neck. Friend had been ill for two days.
The entire company was greatly affected by this news, and loudly
deplored the misfortune, secretly hoping the while that the accursed
little monster might not recover. Barborin, not hearing a word, but
seeing so many mouths at work, so many faces assuming a look of
affliction, naturally supposed they were speaking of Oria, and turning
to her neighbour Paolon, questioned him with her eyes, opening her mouth
and pointing towards Oria. Paolon shook his head. "They are talking
about the little dog," said he. The deaf woman did not understand, but
she said: "Ah!" on general principles, and assumed an expression of
affliction like the rest.

Friend ate too much, and his food was too rich, and he was now suffering
from a disgusting skin disease. Paolin and the curate of Puria gave
much careful advice. The prefect of Caravina had elsewhere expressed the
charitable opinion that the creature ought to be pitched into the lake
with his mistress tied to his neck. While the others were discussing the
favourite with such lively interest, the prefect was thinking of Luisa
as he had seen her that morning, her features distorted, opposing mad
resistance first to the closing of the coffin, and then to its removal.
He was thinking how, in the cemetery, she with her own hands had cast
the earth upon her child, telling her to be patient, that she herself
would soon come and lie down beside her, and that that would be their
Paradise.

In spite of the animated and eager conversation concerning the mangy
Friend, the phantoms of the dead child and the distracted mother were
hovering in the room. Presently there came a moment of silence when no
one could think of anything more to say about the dog, and then the two
unhappy phantoms were heard by all, demanding that they speak of them,
and all could see them distinctly in the eyes of one who loved them, in
the eyes of poor, deaf Barborin. Her husband at once sought a diversion,
and propounded a problem in _tarocchi_ to Signor Giacomo. The other
_tarocchi_ enthusiasts immediately took up the question, the voices of
the phantoms could no longer be heard, and every one breathed more
freely.

It was nine o'clock. Usually at that hour the footman would come in
with two lighted candles, and prepare the little _tarocchi_ table in one
corner of the room, between the great fireplace and the balcony on the
West. Then the Marchesa would rise and say, with her habitual, drowsy
calm:

"If you are ready----"

The two or three guests would invariably answer: "Quite ready," and then
the three-handed or four-handed game would begin.

The old footman--who was devotedly attached to Don Franco--hesitated
that night about bringing the candles. He did not believe it possible
that his mistress and her guests would have the courage to play. At five
minutes past nine, as the footman had not yet appeared, each one began
privately commenting upon the delay. Before entering the house Paolin
had maintained that there would be no playing, while the prefect had
maintained the contrary. He now cast a triumphant glance at his
adversary, as did also Paolon, who, from a spirit of solidarity with the
other Paul, was pleased that he should be in the right. Pasotti, who had
felt sure of his game, began to show signs of uneasiness. At seven
minutes past nine the Marchesa requested the prefect to ring the bell.
It was now the prefect's turn to bestow a triumphant glance on Paolin,
and he put into it all the silent contempt for the old woman that it
would hold.

"Prepare the table," said the Marchesa to the footman.

He soon returned with the two candles. From the depths of his sorrowful
eyes also, the phantom of the dead child looked forth. While he was busy
arranging the candles, the cards, and the ivory counters on the table,
the room was enveloped in that silence which always preceded the rising
of the Marchesa. But the Marchesa showed no intention of rising. She
turned to Pasotti, saying:

"Controller, if you and the others wish to play----"

"Marchesa," Pasotti promptly replied, "my wife's presence must not deter
you from enjoying your game. Barborin is not a good player, but she
delights in looking on."

"I shall not play this evening," the Marchesa answered, and although the
tone was mild, the refusal was decisive.

The worthy Paolon, who was always silent and could not play _tarocchi_,
believed he had at last discovered a word which was both wise and
obsequious, and which he might safely utter:

"Exactly!" said he.

Pasotti gave him a surly glance, thinking: "What business is it of his?"
but he did not venture to speak. The Marchesa appeared not to have
noticed Paolon's utterance, and added:

"The others can play if they like."

"Never!" exclaimed the prefect. "We should not think of such a thing!"

Pasotti drew his snuff-box from his pocket. "The _Signor Prefetto_,"
said he, speaking very distinctly, and slightly raising his open hand, a
pinch of snuff between the thumb and forefinger, "The _Signor Prefetto_
must speak for himself. For my part, as the Signora Marchesa wishes us
to play, I am quite willing to oblige her."

The Marchesa was silent, and the fiery prefect, encouraged by her
silence, grumbled in an undertone:

"After all, we are in a house of mourning."

Never since Franco had left the house had his name been mentioned at
these evening assemblies in the red drawing-room, nor had the Marchesa
even alluded either to him or to his wife. She now broke the silence
that had lasted four years.

"I am sorry for the baby," said she, "but as for her father and mother,
the Almighty has seen fit to punish them."

No one spoke. After some minutes Pasotti said in a low and solemn tone:

"A fearful punishment!"

And the curate of Cima added in a louder voice:

"A manifest punishment!"

Paolin dared not remain silent, neither did he dare speak, so he
ejaculated: "Dear, dear!" and this encouraged Paolon to repeat his
"Exactly!" Signor Giacomo simply puffed.

"A chastisement from the Almighty!" the curate of Cima repeated with
emphasis. "And also, considering the circumstances, a mark of His
especial regard for some one else."

All, save the prefect, who was chafing inwardly, looked at the Marchesa
as if the protecting hand of the Omnipotent were suspended above her
wig. But instead that Divine Hand was hovering above the lofty bonnet of
Barborin Pasotti, and was keeping her ears tightly closed, that they
might not hear those contaminating and iniquitous words. "Curate," said
Pasotti, "as the Signora Marchesa has proposed it, shall we have a
little game? You, Paolin, Signor Giacomo, and I?"

The four, seated in their corner at the little card table, at once gave
themselves up to the luxury of unrestrained conversation, and to the
enjoyment of certain stale, Ambrosian[P] witticisms, which cling to the
_tarocchi_ cards like grease.

"I shall get there first!" Pasotti exclaimed after the first round,
laughing loudly, with the intention of proclaiming both his victory and
his good spirits.

The players had rid themselves of the phantoms; not so the others. The
deaf woman, sitting stiff and motionless on the sofa, had suffered
mortal anguish, dreading a gesture from her husband which should command
her to play. Oh, dear Lord! was she to be made to suffer this also? By
the grace of Heaven the sign was not given, and her first feeling upon
seeing the four seat themselves at the little table had been one of
relief. But at once bitter disgust seized her.

What an insult that game was to her Luisa! What contempt it showed for
poor, dear little Maria, who was dead! No one spoke to her, no one
noticed her, so she began to recite in her heart a string of _Paters_,
_Aves_, and _Glorias_, for the soul of that wicked creature seated at
the other end of the sofa, who was so old, so rapidly approaching the
moment when she must appear before her God. She repeated, for her
benefit, the prayer for the conversion of sinners which she had been in
the habit of repeating night and morning for her husband's benefit, ever
since she had discovered his over-familiarity with a certain menial
attached to her household.

When the prefect heard Pasotti's outburst of mirth, he rose to take his
leave. "Wait," said the Marchesa, "you must have a glass of wine." At
half-past nine a precious bottle of old San Colombano was usually
brought in. "I shall not drink to-night," said the prefect heroically,
"I have been greatly upset ever since this morning. Puria knows why."

"Dear, dear!" said Puria softly. "Of course it was a terrible tragedy."

Silence. The prefect bowed to the Marchesa, saluted Signor Pasotti with
an expression that said: "You and I understand each other," and left the
room.

The curate of Puria, who was possessed of a big body and a level head,
was studying the Marchesa without appearing to do so. Was she or was
she not affected by the events at Oria? Her having refrained from
playing seemed to him a doubtful symptom. She might have done so simply
out of respect for her own flesh and blood. On closer observation the
curate noticed that her hands trembled; this was unusual. She forgot to
ask Pasotti if the wine was good; this also was unusual. Her face with
its waxen mask, twitched violently from time to time; this was extremely
unusual. "She is touched!" thought the curate. As she was perfectly
silent, and as Signora Pasotti and Paolon were also silent, the whole
group seemed turned to stone. Puria cast about for a means of breaking
the ice, but could find nothing better than to induce those three heads
to turn towards the card-table, while he commented upon Pasotti's
exclamations, upon Paolin's and Signor Giacomo's ejaculations and
puffings. The Marchesa roused herself somewhat, and expressed her
satisfaction that the players were enjoying themselves. Barborin neither
heard nor spoke a word, so the three others ended by talking about her.
The Marchesa complained that she was so deaf it was impossible to
converse with her. The other two lavished upon her all the praise she so
richly deserved, the praise all those who remember her still lavish upon
her. There she sat, sad and speechless, never suspecting that she was
the subject of their conversation. The Lord protected her profound and
simple meekness, by never allowing the praises of the world to enter
into her ears, but only the scoldings of her worthy consort.

Her great, sorrowful black eyes brightened when Signor Giacomo uttered a
loud and final puff, and his companions, dropping their cards, threw
themselves back in their respective chairs to rest a little and reflect
upon the delights of the game. At last her master approached the sofa,
and motioned to her to rise. For the first time in her life, perhaps,
she was glad to get into the boat.

       *       *       *       *       *

When her guests had left, the Marchesa rang the bell for the rosary,
which they had not been able to repeat at the usual hour. The rosary was
a living thing in Casa Maironi, having its roots in the Marchesa's past
sins, and its growth was steady, for it was always putting forth fresh
_Aves_ and _Glorias_, as the old lady became more advanced in years, and
saw her own disgusting skull looming before her, ever more distinct,
ever more apparent. Consequently her rosary was extremely long. The
sweet peccadillos of her protracted youth did not trouble her conscience
over-much, but there were certain other transgressions which could be
computed in pounds, shillings, and pence, transgressions never properly
confessed and therefore never properly forgiven, and these caused her
great uneasiness; an uneasiness she was continually trying to stifle by
means of rosaries, but which was forever bursting out afresh. While she
was praying to the Great Creditor for the remission of her debts, she
would feel perfect confidence in His power to remit them all, but later
there would once more loom before her mind's eye the sorrowful faces of
the lesser creditors, bringing with them doubts concerning the pardon
received, and thus her avarice and her pride were ever struggling
against the fear of a perpetual debtor's prison beyond the tomb.

When they had recited the prayers for the conversion of sinners, and
those for the healing of the sick, and were about to begin the _De
Profundis_, she announced three new _Ave Marias_, without, however,
stating for what purpose. The scullery maid, a simple peasant from
Cressogno, supposed these _Ave Marias_ were intended for the unhappy
family at Oria, and recited them with extreme fervour. The
scullery-maid's _Aves_ clashed with and routed those of her mistress,
which were asking for sleep, and rest for the nerves and conscience. As
to the _Ave Marias_ of all the others, they were repeated in the common
hope that they might not remain definitely attached to the rosary, as
too often happened. In short, no one succeeded in checking the onward
march of the ghost.

Towards eleven o'clock the Marchesa retired. She drank some
citron-water, and the maid having begun to talk of Oria and of Don
Franco, who, it was whispered, had returned, she ordered her to be
silent. She was certainly affected. She saw continually before her eyes
the image of Maria as she had once seen her when passing in her gondola
below the little Gilardoni villa; a slight figure in a white apron, with
long hair and bare arms, and strangely like a child of her own who had
died when only three. Did she feel affection or pity? She herself could
not tell what she felt. Perhaps it was only irritation and terror at not
being able to rid herself of an annoying image; perhaps it was fear at
the thought that if a certain great sin had not been committed long ago,
if Marchese Franco's will had not been burnt, the child would not have
died.

When she was in bed she had the maid read some prayers to her, then she
ordered her to put out the light, and finally dismissed her. She closed
her eyes, trying not to think of anything, and saw beneath her eyelids,
a shapeless, light spot, which little by little transformed itself into
a small pillow, then into a letter, then into a large white
chrysanthemum, and at last into a pale, drooping, dead face, that
gradually grew smaller and smaller. She fancied she was falling asleep,
but as a result of this last transformation the thought of the child
shot through her heart, and although she saw nothing more beneath her
eyelids, her drowsiness vanished, and she opened her eyes, vexed and
uneasy. She determined to think out a game of _tarocchi_ in order to
drive away these troublesome fancies, and induce sleep. She thought of
the game, and succeeded, by an effort, in seeing in her mind's eye the
little card-table, the players, the candles, the cards; but when she
relaxed the tension of effort, in order to give herself up to a passive
contemplation of these soporific phantoms, something totally different
appeared beneath her eyelids--a head which was continually changing its
features, its expression, its position, and which, at last, slowly
drooped forward, as in sleep or death, so that she could only see the
hair. This was another shock to her nerves. The Marchesa once more
opened her eyes, and heard the clock on the stairs begin to strike. She
counted the strokes; twelve o'clock. It was already midnight, and she
could not get to sleep! She lay some time with wide open eyes, and now
images began to appear in the dark as they had before appeared beneath
her eyelids. At first there was only a formless nucleus, which soon
began to undergo transformation. She saw the face of a clock which
presently turned into the horrible eye of a fish, and then became an
angry, human eye. Suddenly the Marchesa felt quite sure she would not be
able to go to sleep at all, and once more the drowsiness that had
already taken firm hold on her, was put to flight. Then she rang the
bell.

The maid let her ring twice, and then came in, half dressed and sleepy.
She was ordered to place the candle upon a chair in such a position that
the flame might not be visible from the bed, to get a volume of
Barbieri's sermons, and to read in a low voice. The maid was in the
habit of administering these narcotics. She began to read, but at the
end of the second page, hearing her mistress's breathing grow deeper,
she very gradually lowered her voice, until it became only an
inarticulate murmur, and finally lapsed into silence. She waited a
moment, listening to the deep and regular breathing, then rose and went
to look at the dark face turned upwards on the pillows, with wrinkled
brow and half-open mouth. Then she took up the candle and went out on
tiptoe.

The Marchesa was asleep and dreaming. She was dreaming that she was
stretched on a bed of straw in a great dark dungeon, chains upon her
ankles, and accused of murder. The judge entered with a light, sat down
beside her, and read her a sermon on the necessity of confession. She
kept protesting that she was innocent, and repeating: "Don't you know
she was drowned?" The judge made no answer, but went on reading in a
mournful and solemn voice, while the Marchesa insisted: "No, no! I did
not kill her!" In her dream she was no longer phlegmatic, but writhed
like one in despair. "Remember that the child herself says so," the
judge replied. He rose to his feet, repeating: "She says so." Then he
struck the palm of one hand loudly upon the palm of the other, and
called out: "Enter!" Thus far the Marchesa had been conscious in her
dream that she was dreaming; at this point she thought she awoke, and
saw with horror, that some one had indeed entered the room.

A human form, slightly luminous, was seated in the armchair heaped with
clothes that stood beside her bed, but in such a position that she could
not distinguish the lower part of the apparition. Its shoulders, arms,
and clasped hands were of a whitish hue, and indistinct in outline, but
its head, that rested against the chair-back, was distinctly visible,
and surrounded by a pale light. The dark, living eyes were staring at
the Marchesa. Oh, horror! It was indeed the dead child! Oh, horror! Oh,
horror! The eyes of the apparition spoke, and accused her. The judge was
right, the child was saying so--without words--with her eyes! "It was
you who did it, Grandmother, you! I should have been born, should have
lived under your roof. You would not have it. Your punishment shall be
death everlasting!"

The eyes alone, the staring, sad, pitiful eyes said all these things at
once. The Marchesa uttered a long groan, and stretched out her arms
towards the apparition, trying to say something, and succeeding only in
gasping out: "Ah--ah--ah--" while the hands, the arms, the shoulders of
the phantom vanished in a mist, the outlines of its face became blurred,
and only the gaze remained, staring intently, and then finally becoming
veiled was absorbed, as it were, into a deep and distant Self, nothing
remaining of the apparition save a slight phosphorescence which was
presently lost in the darkness.

The Marchesa awoke with a start. In her agitation she forgot the bell,
and tried to call out, but could not raise her voice. By an effort of
her will, which was still strong in spite of her failing bodily
strength, she thrust her legs out of bed, and stood upright. She
staggered forward a step or two in the dark, stumbling against the
easy-chair, and clutched at another chair, dragging it down with her as
she fell heavily to the ground, where she lay moaning.

The noise of the fall roused the maid, who called out to her mistress,
but receiving no answer, and hearing the moaning, she lighted her candle
and hastened into the room, where, in the dim light between the armchair
and the bed she saw something large and white that was writhing on the
floor like some huge marine monster, that has been cast upon the shore.
She screamed and rushed to the bell, rousing the whole house at once,
and then hastened to help the old woman, who was groaning: "The priest!
The priest! The prefect! The prefect!"


FOOTNOTE:

[P] Ambrosian: From St. Ambrose, patron of Milan. Therefore, Milanese.
[_Translator's note._]



CHAPTER XIII

FLIGHT


At half-past two that same night Franco, Lawyer V., and their friend
Pedraglio were sitting in the loggia in the dark, and in silence.
Suddenly Pedraglio started up exclaiming: "What can that fool be about?"
Going out to the terrace he listened a moment and then returned to the
room. "No sign of him," said he. "Oh, I say! Are we to sit here like
idiots and wait for them to come and take us, and all on account of that
silly ass, who has probably fallen asleep? Maironi, you are fairly well
acquainted with the road, and we all three have plenty of courage. If it
should be necessary to pitch into anybody we should be quite equal to
the occasion. Don't you think so, V.?"

The night before, between seven and eight o'clock, Pedraglio had
happened to be on the road between Loveno and Menaggio. At the spot that
goes by the name of "Bertin's Cove" a man had begged of him, had pressed
a note into his hand, and had then walked rapidly away. The note ran as
follows: "Why does Carlino Pedraglio not go to Oria at once, to see
Signor Maironi and the lawyer from Varenna, and take a nice little walk
with his dear friends over beyond the stake?"

Ever since the arrest of his friend the doctor at Pellio, Pedraglio had
been expecting some sign from the police, and this note was not the
first timely and ungrammatical warning which had reached a patriot. The
note spoke plainly; he must pass the stake that marked the frontier
without delay. Pedraglio knew nothing of Franco's misfortune and return,
nor was he aware of the lawyer's presence in Oria. He did not stop to
speculate, however, but hastened to Loveno, provided himself with money,
and started off on foot. He would not risk going to Porlezza, but took
the path that from a spot near Tavordo rises upwards through a lonely
ravine to the Passo Stretto. As nimble as a chamois, he reached Oria in
four hours, and found Franco and the lawyer preparing to start, another
mysterious warning having reached them through the curate of Castello,
who had been to Porlezza, and had there been charged with the message,
in the confessional. Ismaele was to guide them across the frontier. The
passes of Boglia were very carefully guarded, and Ismaele proposed
passing between Monte della Neve and Castello; then they would drop down
into the valley, making straight for the Alpe di Castello below the
Sasso Grande, and from there descend to Cadro, an hour above Lugano.

But Ismaele was to have been there at two o'clock, and at half-past two
he had not yet appeared.

Luisa was also up. She was in the alcove-room mending a pair of Maria's
stockings, which she intended to place on the little bed, where she had
arranged all of the child's little garments with the same care as when
the little one was alive. She had not wished to see either the lawyer or
Pedraglio. After her intense excitement at the funeral her grief had
once more assumed that gloomy aspect which caused Dr. Aliprandi still
greater anxiety. She was no longer excited; she did not even speak, and
she had never yet wept. Her manner towards Franco exhibited nothing but
pity for this man who loved her, and whose affection and presence were,
in spite of herself, perfectly indifferent to her. Franco, relying upon
obtaining the position his director had talked so much about, had
proposed taking the whole family back to Turin with him. Uncle Piero,
poor old man, was quite ready to make this new sacrifice, but Luisa had
stated explicitly that rather than leave her little daughter, she would
end her days in the lake.

       *       *       *       *       *

Upon hearing the proposal to start without Ismaele, Franco rose and said
he would go and take leave of his wife. Just at that moment the lawyer
heard a step in the street below. "Silence!" said he. "Here he is."
Franco went out to the terrace. Some one was, indeed, coming from the
direction of Albogasio. Franco waited until the wayfarer had reached the
church-place, and then called out in a low voice:

"Ismaele?"

"It is I," a voice answered that was not Ismaele's. "It is the prefect.
I am coming up-stairs."

The prefect at that hour? What could have happened? Franco went to the
kitchen, lighted a candle, and then hastened downstairs.

Five minutes passed and he had not returned to his friends. But
meanwhile Ismaele's wife had appeared to say that her husband was
feeling very ill, and could not stir. She stood in the square, and spoke
to Pedraglio, who was on the terrace. He hastened to summon Franco, and
found him on the stairs, coming up with the prefect. "The guide is ill,"
said he, knowing the priest to be an honest man. "Let us start at once,
and not waste any more time." Franco replied that he could not start
immediately, and that they must go on ahead. How was this? Why could he
not start? No, he could not. He ushered the prefect into the hall,
called the lawyer, and tried to persuade both Pedraglio and him to start
at once. Something extraordinary had happened, about which he must
consult his wife, and he could not say what he might decide to do. His
friends protested that they would not forsake him. The jovial Pedraglio,
who was in the habit of spending more money than his father approved
of, observed that if the worst came to the worst, they would be able to
live more economically and more virtuously at Josephstadt or Kufstein
than in Turin, and that this would be a consolation to his "governor."
"No, no!" exclaimed Franco. "You must go! Prefect, you persuade them!"
And he went towards the alcove-room.

"Are you ready to start?" said Luisa, in that voice which seemed to come
from a far-away world. "Good-bye."

He came to her side, and stooped to kiss the little stocking she held.
"Luisa," he whispered, "the Prefect of Caravina is here." She did not
express the slightest astonishment. "Grandmother sent for him an hour or
two ago," Franco continued. "She told him she had seen our Maria,
shining like an angel."

"Oh, what a lie!" Luisa exclaimed, in a tone full of contempt, but not
angrily. "As if it were possible she would go to her and not come to
me!"

"Maria has touched her heart," Franco went on. "She begs us to pardon
her. She fears she is dying, and entreats me to come to her, to bring
her a word of peace from you also."

Franco himself did not believe in the apparition, being profoundly
sceptical of everything that was supernatural outside of religion, but
he did believe that Maria, in her higher state, had already been able to
work a miracle, and touch his grandmother's heart, and the thought
caused him indescribable emotion. Luisa remained like ice. She was not
even irritated, as Franco had feared she would be, by the proposal to
send a friendly message. "Your grandmother fears hell," she observed
with her mortal coldness. "Hell does not exist, and so all this amounts
to nothing more than a fright. The suffering is not great. Let her bear
it, and then die as we all must, and so, 'Amen.'" Franco saw it would be
useless to insist. "Then I will go," said he. She was silent.

"I don't think I shall be able to come back this way," Franco added. "I
shall have to take to the hills."

Still no answer.

"Luisa!" the young man said softly. Reproach, grief, passion, all these
were in his appeal. Luisa's hands, that had never once paused in their
work, now became still. She murmured:

"I no longer feel anything. I am like a stone."

Franco turned faint. He kissed his wife on her hair, said good-bye, and
then entered the alcove, where, kneeling beside the little bed, he threw
his arms across it, recalling his treasure's little voice: "One kiss
more, papa!" A paroxysm of weeping assailed him, but he controlled
himself, and hurriedly left the room.

In the hall his friends were impatiently awaiting his return. How could
they start? They did not know the way. The lawyer was, indeed,
acquainted with the Boglia road, but was that the best way to go if they
wished to avoid the guards? On hearing that Franco was going to
Cressogno they were filled with amazement, and Pedraglio gave vent to
his indignation, saying it was shameful to forsake his friends in this
fashion, when they were in trouble. When the prefect realised how
matters stood he took Pedraglio's part, and offered to explain Franco's
absence to his grandmother, and proposed that Franco should write a line
or two, which he himself would carry to Cressogno. But Franco was
convinced that his Maria wished him to take this step, and he would not
yield. He suddenly remembered that the prefect was as familiar as a hare
with all the mountain paths. "You go!" said he, addressing the priest.
"You accompany them!" The prefect was about to reply that perhaps the
Signora Marchesa might need him, when the lawyer exclaimed: "Hush! Look
there!"

Directly in front of the house, where the shadow of Monte Bisgnago lay
obliquely upon the rippling water, a boat had stopped. Franco recognised
the customs-guards' launch.

"I am willing to wager those hogs are watching for us," Pedraglio
murmured. "They are afraid we shall escape by boat. Anyway, they are on
the lookout."

"Hush!" the lawyer repeated, approaching the window that overlooked the
church-place.

All held their breath in silence.

"Children," said V., turning quickly from the window, "we are done for!"
Franco went to the window, and saw a solitary figure running towards
the house. He concluded the lawyer had given a false alarm, but the
man--it was he who went by the nickname of "the hunted hare," and who
knew and saw everything--flung two words upwards as he passed beneath
the window: "The police!" At the same moment they heard the noise of
many feet. "Come with me! You also, Prefect!" cried Franco, and the
others following, he made for the little courtyard between the house and
the hillside, and, passing through a woodshed, reached the short cut
that leads to Albogasio Superiore. It was so dark that no one noticed a
customs-guard, standing, carbine in hand, not two steps from the door of
the wood-shed. Fortunately this guard, a certain Filippini, from Busto,
was an honest fellow, who ate the bread of Austria unwillingly, and
simply because he could find no other. "Be quick!" said he in an
undertone. "Cut across the fields, and then take the Boglia road! The
path below the Madonnina on the left." Franco thanked the man, and, with
his companions, started up the steep path that comes out on the narrow
communal road of Albogasio Superiore. Half-way up they all jumped into a
field of maize on the right, and stopped to listen. They heard steps on
the stairs leading upwards from the church-place, and then on the path
where the guard was posted. Evidently the police wished to make sure
that all the exits were well guarded. The four crawled swiftly away
through the maize, and on reaching the spot below a great boulder
called "Lori's Rock," they stopped to hold a consultation. They might
take the path that comes out on the Albogasio road at the very door of
Pasotti's garden, and then climb up from field to field, as far as the
Boglia road. But the path would be hard to find at this hour, and
fearing to lose too much time, they determined to make for the stairway
that leads up from Albogasio Inferiore to Puttini's house, then, leaving
Casa Puttini on the right, they could reach the Boglia road in no time.
It was already less dark. In one way this was a disadvantage, but at
least it would enable them to find their way through that labyrinth of
small fields and low walls. All were silent. Only Pedraglio would utter
an oath in Milanese from time to time, as he stumbled over a stone or
scratched his hands on a hedge. Then the others would hush him. They
reached the narrow stairway preceded by the prefect, who jumped walls
and hedges like a squirrel. When they were all together on the stairs
Franco withdrew from the group. On the Boglia road they would not need
him; he was going to Cressogno. In vain Pedraglio seized him by the arm,
in vain the prefect implored him not to expose himself to certain
arrest, and probable imprisonment. He believed he was obeying Maria's
voice, and felt that he was acting according to the dictates of
conscience. He tore himself from Pedraglio, and disappeared up the
stairs, for he did not wish to go to Cressogno by way of S.
Mamette--that would be too dangerous.

"Follow me!" said the prefect. "The man is mad, and we have ourselves to
think of."

As they were about to turn the corner of Puttini's house, they heard
people approaching who were probably going down the stairs. The door of
Puttini's house was open. The friends slipped inside. The people passed,
talking. They were peasants, and one was saying: "Where the deuce can he
be going at this hour?" Alas, they had met and recognised Franco! If the
gendarmes and the guards should start out to hunt for the fugitives and
come across these people, they would discover a trace at once. Towards
dawn one is always sure of meeting people. This time they had been able
to avoid being seen, but a second time they might be less fortunate, and
a meeting might prove as fatal to Pedraglio and the lawyer as this one
would probably prove to Franco. "If you could only disguise yourselves
as peasants!" said the priest. A happy thought struck the lawyer, who
had something both of the poet and the artist, and who was well
acquainted with Puttini. He would take _Scior Zacomo's_ clothes for
Pedraglio, who was also short, and the big, fat servant's clothes for
himself; stuff their own things into a _gerla_,[Q] fasten it upon his
back, and start for Boglia. The "first political deputy" of Albogasio
might have a hundred reasons for visiting the forest belonging to the
commune. No sooner said than done! They proceeded upstairs, and the
prefect, who was familiar with the house, went straight to call
Marianna. She did not answer, and her room was empty. The prefect
guessed at once that the unfaithful servant had gone to S. Mamette for
some secret business transaction, like that of the oil. That was why
they had found the door open. They went to the kitchen and lighted two
candles. The lawyer took one and the prefect pointed out _Scior
Zacomo's_ room to him. Meanwhile Pedraglio explored the kitchen by
the light of the other candle, in search of "something wet, something to
brace him up."

_Scior Zacomo_ slept in a corner room beyond the hall which the lawyer
crossed on tiptoe, picking his way between piles of chestnuts, walnuts,
filberts, and pears. He approached the door--it was closed. He
listened--silence. Very slowly he turned the handle and pushed. The
beastly door squeaked--he heard a formidable snort, and _Scior Zacomo_
cried out angrily: "Go away! Let me alone! Go away!" The lawyer entered
without further parley. "Away with you, you accursed woman! Go away, I
tell you!" cried _Scior Zacomo_, the point of his white night-cap rising
out of the pillows. On catching sight of the lawyer he began to groan:
"Oh, Lord! Oh, Lord! Oh, dear me! For pity's sake, forgive me! I
thought it was my servant. Most distinguished Advocate, for the love of
Heaven, tell me what has happened."

"Nothing, nothing, _Scior Zacomo_!" said the lawyer. "Only the
Commissary of Porlezza is here----"

"Oh, good Lord!" and _Scior Zacomo_ started to stick his legs out of
bed.

"It is nothing, nothing! Be calm, be calm! Cover yourself up; cover
yourself up again! We are going up to Boglia on account of that accursed
bull, you know."

"Oh, Lord! What are you talking about? There is no bull at Boglia at
this time of the year. Oh! I am all bathed in sweat!"

"Never mind. I tell you we are going to see the place, to see where he
used to be. But the Commissary has very good reasons for strictly
forbidding you to accompany us; he forbids you, moreover, to go out
until we return, and he has even ordered me to remove your clothes."

Then he began rapidly collecting Puttini's garments, commanding him in
the name of the Commissary to be silent. He took possession of the tall
hat, seized the bamboo walking-stick, ordered the wretched man to bolt
the door as soon as he should have left the room, and to open it to no
one, to speak to no one, until the Commissary's return; all this in the
name of that dreaded functionary. Then, leaving the poor man more dead
than alive, he once more joined his companions, who, by dint of much
searching, had found a filthy dress of Marianna's, a big, red kerchief
for the head, a _gerla_, and a bottle of _Anesone triduo_.[R] "The
deuce!" swore the lawyer, on examining the loathsome garments he must
don. His disguise was indeed most unsatisfactory. The skirt was too
short, and the kerchief did not hide his face sufficiently. However
there was no time to look for anything better. But Pedraglio, in the
tall hat, with the bamboo walking-stick in his hand, was a perfect
_Scior Zacomo_. The lawyer thrust an old manuscript pamphlet he found in
the kitchen under his friend's arm, and showed him how to walk and puff.
Finally he took the keys to the wine-cellar, two enormous keys, gave one
to Pedraglio and put the other in his own pocket. These would prove
valuable weapons in case of need; one, he said, would strike in the
treble key, the other in the bass. And so they went out, the prefect
first, followed by the false _Scior Zacomo_ puffing like a steam-engine,
and then the false Marianna and her _gerla_ bringing up the rear. Hardly
had they reached the street when the real Marianna appeared, returning
from S. Mamette with an empty flask. Catching sight of her master's tall
hat looming in the uncertain light, she faced about and made off as fast
as her legs would carry her.

"Miserable thief!" the prefect exclaimed. "Excellent! Your disguise is
splendid!" In five minutes they had reached the Boglia road. Then the
prefect turned homewards, and presently, hearing people coming up from
Albogasio Superiore talking of gendarmes and guards, he went to meet
them and inquired what had happened. Oh, nothing very important; only
the gendarmes and soldiers had been to Casa Ribera to arrest Don Franco
Maironi, and, it would appear, lawyer V. also, for they were sure he
must have been there, and they had been asking every one about him.
However, they had found neither one nor the other of the friends,
although the customs-guards had been watching the house since midnight.
Now the police were searching all the houses in Oria, in the belief that
the two men must have escaped by the roof. While the prefect was
listening to this news a boy came running towards them from the
direction of Albogasio Superiore. They stopped him. "The guards!" he
gasped; "the gendarmes!" He was as white as a sheet; why he was running
away he himself could not tell, and they found it impossible to gather
from him where the gendarmes were. A woman appeared on the scene who was
able to give them more information. Four customs-guards and four
gendarmes had just now crossed the square in Albogasio Superiore. It was
rumoured that Don Franco had been seen on the road to Castello, and two
gendarmes with two guards had started towards the Boglia. The priest
shuddered. "Of course," some one said, "they will cut him off on the
Boglia road." The prefect took some comfort in the thought that both
gendarmes and guards were now searching for Franco only. He was so tall,
so slender, that neither the false Puttini nor the false Marianna could
possibly be suspected of being him. Their fate was now beyond his
control, but for Franco he could still do much. He started for
Cressogno, confident that Franco would reach that place in safety, if
the gendarmes did not discover any fresh traces, for they would search
for him on all the paths leading from Castello to the frontier, but not
on the road to Cressogno.

Pedraglio and the lawyer accomplished the first part of the journey from
Albogasio to the stables of Püs, creeping up the precipitous slope like
cats, with long and cautious steps. The lawyer advanced in silence, but
the other was continually cursing his garments in an undertone. That
"beastly hat," that made his forehead slippery with grease, that
"infernal tail-coat," that smelt strong of the sweat of ages. They
reached Püs without having met a living being. At Püs an old woman came
out from between the stables just after they had passed, and exclaimed
in amazement: "You up here, _Scior Giacomo_? At this hour?" "Puff!"
murmured the lawyer, and Pedraglio began to blow, "Apff! Apff!" like a
pair of bellows. "Such paths as these take the breath away, my good
sir," said the old woman. They met no one else until they reached
Sostra.

Sostra, a stable about half-way up the mountain, with a barn, a shed,
and a cistern, lies some distance back from the path. That path is the
very worst in the whole of Valsolda. It would make even a wild goat hang
its tongue out. Pedraglio and the lawyer, panting and wet through with
perspiration, turned into the Sostra for a moment's rest. There all was
silence and solitude. At that height they already breathed a different
air. And how much lower the mountain-tops had become! And the lake down
there in the depths looked like a river! The lawyer cast anxious glances
upwards towards the first crest of the Boglia, where the great beech
forest begins. Only half an hour more of climbing! "Come along!" said
he. But Pedraglio, in whose legs there still lingered the memory of that
other long walk from Loveno to Oria by way of the Passo Stretto, wanted
to rest a little longer, and began calmly turning over the leaves of
Puttini's old manuscript. It was a monkish poem by some unknown
Cremonese of the seventeenth century. "Come along," his companion
repeated after a minute or two, and was already preparing to rise when
he heard some one approaching. He had barely time to whisper, "Look
out!" and turn his back that his face might not be seen. Pedraglio,
though he kept his manuscript close to his nose, saw first two
customs-guards and then two gendarmes appear upon the path. He warned
his friend of this in a low tone, and without turning his head. The two
guards halted. One of them saluted: "My respects, Signor Puttini."
Turning to the gendarmes, he said: "This gentleman is the first
political deputy of Albogasio." The gendarmes saluted also, and
Pedraglio raised his hat, and held the manuscript a little higher. The
guards wished to rest awhile, but one of the gendarmes ordered them to
move on, and when the rest of the company had started forward, he
himself approached the Sostra. He was from Ampezzo, and spoke Italian
very fluently. "You dog! I hope you don't know me!" thought Pedraglio,
vaguely conscious of his dual personality. "We are in for it, anyway!"

"_Signor Deputato Politico_," said the man, "did you happen to see
Signor Maironi at Oria this morning?"

"I? No, indeed. Signor Maironi is in bed and asleep at this hour."

"And you yourself----where are you going?"

"I am going up that mountain, up that accursed Boglia, to see about the
communal bull."

"Idiot!" groaned the lawyer inwardly. "He is making it communal now!"
But the "communal" was allowed to pass unchallenged. The gendarme, who
had a face like a bull-dog, stared hard at his interlocutor. "You are a
political deputy," said he insolently, "and you wear that thing on your
chin?" Instinctively Pedraglio's hand went to his thin, black, pointed
beard, the abhorred beard of the liberals. "I will cut it off," said he,
with mock seriousness. "Most certainly, my dear sir! Are you also going
up the Boglia!" Very stiffly the gendarme moved away, without answering,
and all unconscious of the shameful gibbet to which the political deputy
was consigning him.

The two friends congratulated themselves on their narrow escape, but
they recognised that the game had become very serious. Now they had the
guards to reckon with, who knew Puttini well, and they must find a means
of avoiding them. And what if that bull-dog of a gendarme should blab
about the beard? "Come on! Come on!" said the lawyer. "Let us follow
them, and if we see or hear them turn back we must take to our heels and
make off to the left, towards the frontier." This would have been a
desperate move, for they were unacquainted with the ground, with which
the guards were undoubtedly familiar.

But in order to catch up with his companions the bull-dog had to sweat
and pant so hard that when he reached them he had no desire left to
speak of beards. Pedraglio and the lawyer climbed slowly upwards, and
saw the enemy reach the crest of the hill at the Madonnina beech-tree.
There they halted for some time and then disappeared.

The venerable beech-tree, which had the honour of bearing upon its trunk
an image of the Madonna, which, on its death, it bequeathed to a small
chapel, stood like a sentinel before the great forest of Boglia, like a
soldier posted in this dip of the crest, to keep watch over the
precipitous hillside, the lake, and the sloping ground of Valsolda. The
venerable army of colossal beeches stood marshalled in another silent
hollow between the slope of Colmaregia, the easily climbed Dorsi della
Nave, the rocky base of the Denti di Vecchia or Canne d'Organo, and that
other saddle of the Pian Biscagno, between Colmaregia and the Sasso
Grande, and faced the depths of Val Colla from Lugano to Cadro. An open,
grass-grown strip of ground stretched along the edge of the crest,
between the Madonnina beech-tree and the forest. The two fugitives
stopped to consider their position. Which way should they go? Should
they look for the little path below the beech-tree, of which the guard
who had saved them had spoken, or should they enter the forest? No, it
would be unwise to take to the woods, in the wake of the game they had
just seen enter them. In the forest they were sure to find the dead
leaves lying ankle-deep, and it would be impossible to pass through
without attracting the attention of the blood-hounds that were roaming
there, and their disguise would not bear close inspection. The path?
There were more paths than one beneath the beech-tree. Which was the
right one? Pedraglio swore at the absent Franco for not having
accompanied them, but the lawyer was studying the Colmaregia, which
could be climbed without entering the forest. He had twice made the
ascent of the Colmaregia, that superb, slender, grass-grown peak of the
Boglia, which the line of the frontier cuts in halves. He knew that from
there they would be able to descend to the Swiss village of Brè, and he
resolved to try that route. No one was visible on the crest that rises
from the Madonnina beech towards the Colmaregia, and the summit was
enveloped in clouds.

Just below the beech-tree they were overtaken by a wave of mist which
had rolled up one side of the mountain and was rapidly pouring down the
other; a cold, thick mist, a mist "as bad as they make them," so V.
said. They could not see five steps ahead, and thus it happened that
near the beech-tree Pedraglio ran almost into the arms of a
customs-guard.

He was one of the four, and had been told off to guard the open space
between the brow of the hill and the forest. Catching sight of the
little man in the top-hat, he exclaimed: "On the Boglia, Sig----" The
lawyer quickly cast aside his _gerla_, and the guard did not finish his
sentence, but stared a moment, open-mouthed, and then exclaimed: "How is
this?"

The lawyer did not wait for further explanations.

"This is how it is," said he calmly, and drawing his fists into
position on his breast, he hit out suddenly, and dealt the guard a
tremendous blow in the stomach that sent him rolling on the grass, his
heels in the air. In a flash Pedraglio was upon him, and snatched his
carbine from him.

"If you yell, you dog, I shall do for you!" said he. But how could he
possibly yell? With a blow like that in the stomach, it was all he could
do to breathe for at least fifteen minutes. In fact the man lay like one
dead, and it was some time before they could even make him groan
faintly: "Oh, Lord! Oh, Lord!"

"It's nothing, nothing at all," V. told him with his usual, mocking
calm. "Shocks like that are good for the health. You will see. Now, my
friend, you are just going to pick yourself up and stand nice and firm
on your legs, and accompany us to Colmaregia. You will see how well you
will be able to walk. I was careful not to use this." And he showed him
the key.

"Oh, what a blow!" groaned the guard. "Oh, what a terrible blow!"

"It is indeed a rather stiff climb," the lawyer went on, taking the
carbine from Pedraglio, "but with your permission we will help you up
from behind with the point of this instrument. Thus climbing will become
a delight. Then you must bear us company down to Brè. We will carry your
carbine for you, but you, in return, must carry this little _gerla_. Is
my meaning quite clear to you? Now, march!"

But the wretched man could not get to his feet and they certainly could
not leave him there and run the risk of his calling out for help.

"Poor fellow!" said Pedraglio. "You hit him too hard."

V. replied that he had touched him with the gentleness of a woman, and
passing the carbine to Pedraglio, he seized the guard by the collar of
his uniform, pulled him to his feet, and made him run his arms through
the straps of the _gerla_.

"Go ahead, you fraud!" said he. "March, lazy-bones!"

Up, up, ever upwards they climbed through the thick mist. The hillside
was extremely steep, and it was all they could do to find foothold
between the clumps of soft grass. They slipped, they laboured with hands
and feet, but they heeded naught, struggling ever upwards for freedom's
sake. Up, up, ever upwards, through the thick mist, invisible as
spirits, first the false Marianna, then the guard puffing and groaning
under the heavy _gerla_, then the false _Scior Zacomo_ promising him a
fine view from the top, and from time to time encouraging him with the
point of the carbine. The carbine worked miracles. In half an hour the
three had reached the crest, from whence the hill slopes down towards
Brè, lying only a short distance below the summit. Then, sitting upon
the grass, they let themselves slide rapidly downwards. Presently it
began to rain, and the mist grew thinner, and below them, at their
feet, they could see the red of the woodlands. _Scior Zacomo's_
venerable top-hat was the first to reach the spot, hurled from above by
Pedraglio with a joyful "Hurrah for Italy!" as he himself slid onwards,
arm in arm with the guard. At Brè Pedraglio called the whole town
together by firing off the carbine in sign of exultation, and then he
distributed _anesone triduo_ among the men, and administered it in
smaller doses to the girls. He begged the curate to allow him to hang
the tail-coat in the church as a votive offering, sat down to eat with
the guard, got the priest to preach him a sermon on the duty of
pardoning blows in the stomach, and read a verse of the monkish poem to
him, which ended thus:

    At this point the good priest did exclaim:
    My views are no longer the same.

After this he had no difficulty in demonstrating to him that if this
Padre Lanternone had suddenly changed his opinions, he, the guard, would
be fully justified in changing his, and he finally persuaded him to
desert. The guard ended by casting aside his uniform and donning the
tail-coat, amidst the laughter and applause of all present. The only one
who did not join in the laughter was the lawyer. "What may not have
happened to poor Maironi?" said he.

       *       *       *       *       *

Franco did not cross Castello. Upon reaching the little Rovajà chapel he
hastened downwards by the path that leads to the fountain at Caslano,
reached the narrow lane that goes to Casarico and followed it upwards as
far as the last turning just below Castello, where the church of Puria
becomes visible beneath its amphitheatre of crags; then he turned into
the valley on the right, hastening along a path fit for goats only,
climbed upwards once more below the church of Loggio, and reached Villa
Maironi without having met any one.

Carlo, the old servant who opened the door for him, nearly fainted with
emotion as he kissed Franco's hands. At that moment the doctor was in
the sick room. Franco decided to wait until he should come out, and
meanwhile took the faithful old man into his confidence, telling that
the gendarmes were at his heels. Dr. Aliprandi soon came out, and
Franco, who knew him to be a patriot, confided in him also, for he must
show himself, and make inquiries about his grandmother. Aliprandi had
been called in the night, after the prefect had left for Oria. He had
found the Marchesa in a state of nervous excitement, tormented by a
terrible fear of death, but exhibiting no symptoms of illness. At
present she seemed quite calm. Franco had her informed of his arrival,
and was ushered into the room by the maid, who looked at him with
obsequious curiosity, and then withdrew.

The half-open shutters of the room where the Marchesa lay, admitted only
two slanting streaks of grey light, which did not reach the face,
thrown back upon the pillow. On entering Franco could not see that
face, but he heard the familiar, sleepy voice saying:

"Is that you, Franco?"

"Yes, grandmother. Good-morning," and he stooped to kiss her. The waxen
mask was unruffled, but there was a vague and gloomy expression about
the eyes that seemed at once desire and terror. "I am dying, you know,
Franco," said the Marchesa. Franco protested, and repeated what the
doctor had said to him. His grandmother listened, gazing eagerly at him,
trying to read in his eyes if the doctor had really spoken thus. Then
she answered:

"It makes no difference. I am quite ready."

From the changed expression on her face and in her voice Franco
understood perfectly that she was quite ready to live twenty years
longer. "I am sorry for your bereavement," said she, "and I forgive
you."

Franco had not expected words of pardon from her. He had believed it was
for him to bring forgiveness, not to receive it. Comforted and
reassured, the Marchesa of every day was gradually reappearing beneath
the Marchesa of an hour. She was willing to purchase peace of mind, but
she was like the sordid miser who, having yielded to the temptation of
gratifying some desire, allowed the price of his enjoyment to escape
painfully from between his tightly-clasped fingers, trying the while to
keep back as much as possible behind his nails. At another time
Franco's wrath would have burst forth, he would have rejected that
forgiveness angrily, but now, with his sweet Maria in his heart, he
could not feel thus. He had however noticed that his grandmother had
proffered her forgiveness to him alone. This was too much; he could not
pass this over.

"My wife, my wife's uncle, and I myself have suffered much beside this
last bereavement," said he, "and now we have lost our only comfort.
Uncle Ribera I leave out of the question; you, I myself, all must bow
before him, but if my wife and I have sinned against you, let us make
forgiveness mutual."

This was a bitter pill, but the Marchesa swallowed it in silence.
Although she no longer saw death at her bedside, her heart still
trembled with the terror inspired by the apparition, and by certain
words the prefect had spoken on hearing her confession. "I shall make a
will," she said, "and I wish you to know that the whole Maironi property
will go to you."

Ah, Marchesa, Marchesa! Poor, icy creature! Did she believe she could
purchase peace at this price? In this the prefect also had blundered,
for it was he who had advised her to make this declaration to her
grandson, kind, honest man that he was, but entirely without tact, and
incapable of understanding Franco's lofty soul. The idea that she might
think he had been prompted by sordid motives to come to her, was
intolerable to Franco. "No, no!" he exclaimed, quivering, and fearing
his hot temper would get the better of him after all. "No, no! Don't
leave me anything. It will be quite enough if you will allow the
interest on my own money to be paid at Oria. Grandmother, you must leave
the Maironi property to the Ospitale Maggiore. I fear my ancestors did
very wrong to keep it."

His grandmother had not time to answer, for there came a knock at the
door. The prefect entered, and offering as an excuse that he would tire
the invalid, persuaded Franco to say good-bye. "You must make haste,"
said he, when they were outside. "You have done more than your duty
here. Too many people are now aware of your presence, and the gendarmes
may appear at any moment. I have arranged everything with Aliprandi. He
considers a consultation necessary for the Marchesa, and will take the
Villa Maironi gondola and go to Lugano for a doctor. The two boatmen
will be Carlo and yourself. There are those oil-cloth cloaks with hoods.
Put on one of those and remain in the stern. Now we must shave off that
pointed beard of yours, and then with the hood drawn over your head, no
one will possibly be able to recognise you. You will be perfectly safe.
Perhaps you may not even be obliged to put in at the customs-house. At
any rate, they will not recognise you. If there is any talking to be
done, Carlo can do it."

The idea was good. The Marchesa's gondola was always looked upon by the
agents of Austria with the greatest respect; as if it were carrying an
egg of the double-headed eagle. Even when returning from Lugano it was
made to stop at the customs-house simply _pro forma_.

It was past eight o'clock when the gondola left the boathouse. From the
lofty summits the mist had descended upon the lake, and it was raining.
Sad, sad day! Sad, sad journey! Neither Franco, the servant, nor
Aliprandi spoke a word. They passed S. Mamette and Casarico, and then,
amidst the mist beyond the olives of Mainè, the white walls of Maria's
resting-place appeared. Franco's eyes filled with tears. "No, dear," he
thought; "no, love; no, my life, you are not there; and I thank my God,
who tells me not to believe this horrid thing!" A few strokes more and
there was the little house of happy days, of bitter hours, of
misfortune; there was the window of the room where Luisa was giving
herself up to black grief, the loggia where, henceforth, poor old Uncle
Piero would spend his days alone, that just man who was going down to
the grave in silence, in tribulation, in weariness. Franco longed to
know what had happened after his departure; if the police had worried
Uncle Piero and Luisa. In vain he strained his eyes: no living being was
to be seen either on the terrace, in the little garden, or at the
windows of the loggia. All was silent, all was calm. He stopped rowing,
searching for some sign of life. Dr. Aliprandi opened the door of the
_felze_[S] and begged him to resume his rowing, begged him not betray
himself. At that moment Leu came to the parapet of the little garden,
with a jug in her hand; she glanced at the gondola and then entered the
loggia. Uncle Piero must be in the loggia, and they were taking him the
customary glass of milk, so probably nothing had happened. Franco once
more began to row, and Dr. Aliprandi closed the door. They glided past
the little garden, past the other houses of Oria, and the gondola turned
towards the landing-stage of the customs-house.

Bianconi, sitting under an umbrella and fishing for tench, spied the
gondola, and, dropping his pole, came forward to pay his respects to the
Marchesa. But he found Dr. Aliprandi instead, who so upset him by his
alarming account of the lady that he felt called upon to summon his
Peppina and impart the news to her; and Peppina, poor woman, was obliged
to act a little comedy of affliction under her Carlascia's umbrella.
Both husband and wife exhorted Aliprandi to make haste, to return
quickly. The big mastiff gave him permission to cross directly from
Gandria to Cressogno on the way back. Then the doctor turned to Franco,
and gave the order to proceed. Franco had listened to the conversation
standing motionless, his hands clasping his oar, and hoping to hear
something about his friends or his family. But no word was breathed
concerning either police, arrests, or flights, and Casa Ribera might
have been in China. The gondola backed slowly away from the
landing-stage, turned its prow towards Gandria, gliding ever further and
further away until it had slipped across the frontier, and vanished in
the mist.

       *       *       *       *       *

On reaching the Lugano shore, Dr. Aliprandi opened the door, and called
Franco into the little cabin. Their acquaintance was only slight, but
they embraced like brothers. "When the cannonading begins I shall be
there also," Aliprandi said.

They must say good-bye here, and Franco must go ashore first and alone,
for Lugano was full of spies and the doctor must also be cautious.
Besides, Aliprandi was in no hurry. He was more anxious to find a
boatman than a physician. Franco drew his hood over his eyes, stepped
ashore and went directly to the Albergo della Corona.

Some hours later, when the gondola had started homewards, he went out in
search of some one from Valsolda who might give him news, and directed
his steps towards the Fontana pharmacy. Under the arcades he met his two
friends, who had just left the pharmacy. They fell upon his neck, and
wept with emotion. They also had been in search of news, and at the
pharmacy they had heard that Franco had been arrested. What joy to find
him here, and to feel they were standing on free soil!


FOOTNOTES:

[Q] _Gerla_: a basket the peasants both in Switzerland and in North
Italy carry fastened upon their backs. [_Translator's note._]

[R] _Anesone triduo_: a sort of very coarse and very strong anisette.
[_Translator's note._]

[S] _Felze_: the cover which is placed upon gondolas in winter or in bad
weather. It forms a tiny cabin. [_Translator's note._]



Part III



CHAPTER I

THE SAGE SPEAKS


No less than three springs had come and gone since the autumn of 1855
without bringing to the banks of the Ticino that mustering of armies and
of banners that the Italians had expected. In February, 1859, all were
convinced that a fourth spring could not pass thus. Great events, duly
pre-announced by a splendid comet, were approaching. The old world was
quivering and creaking inwardly, as does a frozen river on the eve of a
thaw. That deadly cold and awful silence which had lasted ten years, was
about to disappear, to be swept away amidst the clamour of strife and
destruction, by new currents, warm and brilliant. Carlascia was playing
the braggart, and would talk to his guards (who made no comments) of an
impending military expedition to Turin. Signor Puttini had never
entirely recovered from the shock he had received on that memorable
morning; and the lawyer's treachery, the tragic end of the top-hat, the
comic end of the tail-coat, had deeply affected him, and he had lost
all respect for patriots. Dr. Aliprandi was already in Piedmont. A
veteran subaltern of the army of Napoleon, who lived in Puria, was
secretly furbishing up his old uniform, with the intention of presenting
himself before the French Emperor when he should enter Italy. Whenever
Intrioni, the curate of Castello, met Don Giuseppe Costabarbieri, he
would remind him of a certain rhyme of 1796 which he, Don Giuseppe, had
gone about repeating in 1848, but which he had soon hidden away again.

    The mighty Ulans
    Came here from Hungary,
    But the Frenchman's arms
    Made them all promptly flee!

Don Giuseppe, greatly alarmed, would cry: "Hush! Hush!"

Meanwhile the violets continued to grow as peacefully on the slopes of
Valsolda as if nothing were happening. On the evening of the twentieth
of February, Luisa carried a bunch to the cemetery. She was still in
mourning. Pallid and emaciated, her eyes had become larger, and there
were many silver threads in her hair. She seemed to have grown twenty
years older since her bereavement. Upon leaving the cemetery she turned
towards Albogasio, and joined some women from Oria, who were going to
recite the Rosary in the parish church. She no longer seemed the same
dark phantom that had laid the violets on Maria's grave. She talked
calmly, almost gaily, first with one, then with another of the women;
inquired after a sick animal, praised and caressed a little girl who was
going to the Rosary with her grandmother, and told her to sit very still
in church, as her Maria had always done. She said this and mentioned
Maria very quietly, but the women shuddered and were filled with
astonishment, for Luisa herself never went to church now. She asked one
of the girls if the young men were going to act a play as usual, and if
her brother was to take part. Upon receiving an answer in the
affirmative she offered to help with the costumes. She left the others
on the church-place of the Annunciata, and as she went down the
Calcinera alone her face once more resumed its spectral appearance.

She was on her way to Casarico to see the Gilardonis, who had been
married three years. The professor's happiness and his adoration of
Ester would deserve to be told in verse! Uncle Piero said of him that he
had grown feeble-minded. Ester feared he might become ridiculous, and
would not allow him to assume certain ecstatic poses before her when
there was anyone present. The only person in whose presence she did not
insist upon the observance of this rule was Luisa. But Gilardoni always
showed the greatest deference for Luisa; to him she was still a
superhuman being; to his respect for the woman herself had been added
his respect for her grief, and in her presence his behaviour was always
most circumspect. Luisa had been going to Casa Gilardoni almost every
evening for about two years now, and if anything could have troubled the
couple's happiness it would have been these visits.

Indeed, their motive was a strange one, and one repugnant to Ester, but
Ester's affection for her friend, and her pity for her bereavement, were
so great, while her heart was so full of remorse for not having looked
after Maria more carefully on that terrible day, that she did not dare
to resolutely oppose her wishes, or dissuade her husband from gratifying
them. She expressed her disapproval to Luisa, and begged her at least to
maintain secrecy concerning the nightly doings in the professor's study,
but she went no further. The professor, on the contrary, would have
enjoyed these séances had it not been for his wife's disapproval. It was
already dark when Luisa rang the bell at the little door of Casa
Gilardoni. Ester herself opened it. Luisa did not return her greeting,
which she felt was full of embarrassment. She simply looked at her, but
when they reached the little parlour on the ground-floor where Ester was
in the habit of spending her evenings, she embraced her so passionately
that Ester burst into tears. "Have patience with me!" Luisa said. "It is
all that is left me!" Ester tried to comfort her, telling her that
happier times were coming for her; that she and Franco would soon be
reunited. In a few months Lombardy would be free, and Franco would come
home. And then--and then--so many things might happen! Perhaps Maria
might return! Luisa started violently and caught her friend's hands.
"No!" she cried. "Do not say such things! Never! Never! I am all hers! I
belong to Maria alone!" Ester could not answer, for at that point the
smiling professor came bustling into the room.

He saw that his wife's eyes were wet with tears and that Luisa was
greatly excited. He greeted her very quietly and sat down in silence
beside Ester, in the belief that they had been discussing the usual
subject, which was so painful to his wife. She would have liked to send
him away and resume her conversation with Luisa, but did not venture to
do so. Luisa was shuddering at that spectre of future danger which would
sometimes stand vaguely outlined before her mind's eye, but which she
had always banished with horror, never pausing to examine it, and which
now, evoked by her friend's words, rose before her, naked and distinct.
After a long and painful silence Ester sighed, and said in a low voice:

"You may go if you like. Go, both of you."

Luisa, moved by an impulse of gratitude, fell on her knees before her
friend and buried her face in her lap. "You know," she said, "I no
longer believe in God. At first I thought there must be a cruel God, but
now I do not believe in the existence of any God. But if a loving God,
such as He in whom you believe, did really, surely exist, He would not
condemn a poor mother who has lost her only child, and who is
struggling to persuade herself that a part of that child still lives!"

Ester made no reply. Almost every night for two years Luisa and her
husband had evoked the spirit of the dead child. Professor Gilardoni, in
whom there was a strange mingling of the free-thinker and the mystic,
had read with great interest the marvellous tales that were told
concerning the Fox sisters--Americans--and the experiments of Eliphas
Levi, and had closely followed the spiritualistic movement which had
spread rapidly in Europe, in the form of a mania that upset both heads
and tables. He had spoken to Luisa about this movement, and Luisa,
possessed and blinded by the idea that she might ascertain if her child
did still exist, in which case she might in some way be able to
communicate with her, seeing nothing else in all the marvellous facts
and strange theories save this one luminous point, had besought him to
make some experiments with Ester and herself. Ester believed in nothing
supernatural outside the doctrines of Christianity, and did not,
therefore, take the matter seriously. She willingly consented to place
her hands on a small table, in the company of her friend and her
husband, who, on the contrary, exhibited great zeal, and had faith in
their chances of success. The first experiments were disappointing.
Ester, who found them tedious, would have liked to discontinue the
attempts, but one evening, after twenty minutes of waiting, the little
table tipped to one side, lifted a leg in the air, righted itself, and
then tipped again, to Ester's great chagrin, but to the great joy of
Luisa and the professor. The next night five minutes sufficed to make
the table move. The professor taught them the alphabet, and then tried
to summon a spirit. The table responded, knocking with its leg upon the
floor according to the alphabet that had been arranged. The spirit
evoked gave its name: Van Helmont. Ester was frightened and trembled
like a leaf; the professor was trembling also, but with excitement. He
wished to tell Van Helmont that he had his works in his library, but
Luisa besought him to inquire where Maria was. Van Helmont answered:
"Near!" Then Ester rose, as pale as a ghost, protesting that she would
not continue, and neither Luisa's tears nor entreaties could move her.
It was sinful, sinful! Ester's religious sense was not deep, but she had
a wholesome fear of hell and the devil. For some time it had been
impossible to resume the séances--she had a horror of them, and her
husband did not venture to oppose her wishes. It was Luisa who, by dint
of prayers and entreaties, at last obtained a compromise. The séances
were resumed, but Ester took no part in them.

She did not even wish to know what took place. Only, whenever her
husband seemed worried or preoccupied, she would throw out an uneasy
allusion to the secret dealings in the study. Then he would be troubled,
and offer to desist, but Ester had not the courage to face Luisa. For
she had discovered indirectly that Luisa really believed she held
communication with the child's spirit. Once she had said: "I shall not
come to-morrow night because Maria does not wish it." At another time
she had said: "I am going up to Looch because Maria wants a flower from
her grandmother's grave." To Ester it seemed incredible that a head so
clear and strong could be thus deluded. At the same time she realised
the extreme difficulty of convincing her by gentle means, and all the
cruelty of using harsh measures with her.

The professor lit a candle and went upstairs to the study, followed by
Luisa. We are acquainted with this study that was like a ship's cabin,
its shelves filled with books, its little fireplace, its windows
overlooking the lake and the armchair in which Maria had gone to sleep
one Christmas Eve. The room now contained something else. Between the
fireplace and the window stood a small round table, with one central leg
only, that branched out into three feet, about a hand's breadth from the
floor.

"I am very sorry to cause Ester so much pain," said the professor as
they entered the room. He placed the light on the writing-desk, but
instead of preparing the little table and the chairs as usual he went to
look out of the window at the pale light on the water and in the sky,
amidst the surrounding shadows of night. Luisa stood motionless, and
suddenly he faced about as if some magnetism had revealed her anguish to
him. He saw appalling anguish on her face, and understood that she
believed he had made up his mind to stop the séances, whereas he had
only been tempted to do so, and, greatly moved, he seized her hands,
telling her that Ester was good, that she loved her so much, that
neither he nor she would ever willingly cause her suffering. Luisa did
not answer, but the professor had all he could do to prevent her kissing
his hand. While he was arranging the little table and the two chairs in
the centre of the floor, she sank into the armchair, in a state of great
depression.

"There!" said the professor.

Drawing a letter from her pocket Luisa handed it to him.

"I need Maria and you so much to-night," said she. "Read that. It is
from Franco. You can begin with the fourth page." The professor did not
hear these last words, but going to the light, began to read aloud:

                                    "Turin, _February 18, 1859_.
     "My OWN LUISA,--

     "Do you know you have not written to me for a fortnight!"

     "You can skip that," said Luisa, but at once corrected herself.
     "No, perhaps you had better read it." The professor continued.

     "This is my third letter to you since yours of the sixth.
     Perhaps I was too violent in my first letter, and wounded you.
     What a temper is this of mine, that makes me speak, and
     sometimes even write such harsh words when my blood is up! And
     what blood is this of mine that at two-and-thirty is as quick
     to boil as at two-and-twenty! Forgive me, Luisa, and permit me
     to return to the subject, and take back those words that may
     have offended you.

     "At present there is no more talk here either of tables or of
     spirits, but only of diplomacy and war; in former years,
     however, spiritualism was very widely discussed, and several
     persons I both respect and esteem believed in it. I knew
     positively that many among them were simply deluded but I never
     doubted their good faith when they told me of conversations
     they had had with spirits. It would indeed seem that our
     imagination, when inflamed, can make us see and hear things
     that do not really exist. But I am willing to admit that in
     your case you are not deceived by your imagination; that your
     little table does really move and express itself exactly as you
     say. I was wrong to doubt this--I confess it--in the first
     place because you are so sure of not being mistaken, and
     secondly, because I am well aware of Professor Gilardoni's
     honesty. But to me this is a question of sentiment. I know that
     my sweet Maria lives with God, and I cherish the hope that some
     time I, with other souls dear to me, may go where she is. If
     she should appear before me unbidden, if, without having
     summoned her, I should hear the sound of her voice, clear and
     distinct, perhaps I should not be able to bear such joy. But I
     could never summon her, never force her to come to me. The
     thought is repugnant to me; it is contrary to that sense of
     veneration I feel for a Being who is so much nearer God than I
     am. Dear Luisa, I also speak to our treasure every day, speak
     to her of myself and of you as well; I am convinced that she
     sees us, that she loves us, that she can still do much for us
     even in this life. How I wish that your intercourse with her
     might be of the same nature! If, in answering your letter in
     which you allude to a communication from her I expressed myself
     too harshly, forgive me, not only in consideration of my hasty
     temper, but still more in consideration of my sentiments, which
     are indeed a part of my nature.

     "Forgive me also in consideration of the atmosphere of intense
     excitement in which I am living here. My throat is perfectly
     well. Since war has been talked of, I have cast aside both
     camphor and sedative waters, but my nerves are in a state of
     such extraordinary tension that it seems as if, were they
     touched, sparks must fly from them. All this is partly due to
     the amount of work to be accomplished at the Home Office, where
     it is no longer a question of regular hours, but where even the
     humblest secretary, if he be conscientious, must strain every
     muscle. When I first obtained this position through the
     kindness of Count Cavour, I felt I was not really earning the
     bread the government gave me. This is no longer the case, but I
     am about to withdraw from this field of strenuous labour; and
     this brings me to another topic, to something I have long had
     in my heart, and which I now impart to you with feelings of
     indescribable emotion.

     "In a week my friends and I are going to enlist in the army as
     volunteers, for the duration of the coming campaign. We are
     entering the ninth infantry regiment, stationed in Turin. Here
     at the Home Office they would like to keep me some time longer,
     but I intend to become familiar with my duties in the regiment
     before the campaign opens, and I have therefore simply promised
     not to leave the Office until the day before we enlist.

     "Luisa, we have not seen each other for three years and almost
     five months! It is true you are under police surveillance, and
     that you may not go to Lugano, but I have several times
     proposed means to you of meeting me, at least at the frontier,
     or on the mountains, and you have never even answered. I
     believed I knew why. It was because you could not tear yourself
     away even for a short time, from a certain sacred spot. This
     seemed too much, and I confess I had many bitter feelings. Then
     I reproached myself, I felt I was selfish, and I forgave you.
     Now, Luisa, circumstances have changed. I have no forebodings
     of evil; indeed, it seems impossible that I should be destined
     to end my days on a battlefield, nevertheless this is not
     impossible. I am going to take part in a war that promises to
     be one of the greatest, one of the longest and most desperate,
     for if Austria is risking her Italian provinces, we, and
     perhaps Emperor Napoleon as well, are risking everything. It is
     said we shall spend next winter beneath the walls of Verona.
     Luisa, I cannot run the risk of dying without seeing you once
     more. I shall have only twenty-four hours, I cannot come to the
     frontier or to Lugano, and I should not be satisfied to spend
     ten minutes with you. Ask Ismaele to get you to Lugano in some
     way on the morning of the twenty-fifth of this month. Leave
     Lugano in time to reach Magadino at one o'clock, for you cannot
     go by way of Luino. At Magadino you must take the boat that
     leaves at about half-past one. At four or thereabouts you will
     reach Isola Bella, where I shall arrive at about the same hour
     from Arona. At this time of year Isola Bella is a desert. We
     can spend the evening together, and in the morning you will
     leave for Oria, I for Turin.

     "I am writing to Uncle Piero to ask his forgiveness for
     depriving him of your company for one day.

     "I do not apprehend any danger. The Austrians are thinking only
     of their arms, and their police are letting thousands of young
     men escape them, young men who come here to take up arms. The
     Austrians would be terrible the day after a victory, but, God
     willing! that day shall never dawn for them.

     "Luisa, can it be possible I shall not find you at Isola Bella,
     that you may think you are pleasing Maria by not coming? But
     don't you know that if some one had said to my Maria, to my
     poor little darling--run and say good-bye to your papa, who is
     perhaps going away to die--how fast----"

The reader's voice trembled, broke, and was lost in a sob. Luisa hid her
face in her hands. He placed the letter on her knees, saying with
difficulty: "Donna Luisa, can you hesitate?"

"I am wicked," Luisa murmured. "I am mad!"

"But do you not love him?"

"Sometimes I think I love him very much, at other times not at all."

"My God!" the professor exclaimed. "But now? Are you not moved by the
thought that you may never see him again?"

Luisa was silent, she seemed to be crying. Suddenly she started to her
feet, pressing her hands to her temples, and fixed her eyes on the
professor's face, eyes in which there were no tears, but in which there
shone a sinister and angry light. "You don't know," she cried, "what
there is here in my head! What a mass of contradictions, how many
opposite thoughts that are struggling together, and always changing
places with each other! When I received the letter I cried bitterly, and
said to myself. 'Yes, my poor Franco, this time I will go!'--And then
there came a voice that spoke here in my forehead, and said: 'No, you
must not go because--because--because----'"

She ceased speaking, and the professor, terrified by the flashes of
madness he saw in those eyes that were fixed on his, did not dare to ask
for an explanation. The eyes, which still stared into his, gradually
softened and became veiled with tears. Luisa took his hands, and said
gently, timidly: "Let us ask Maria."

They sat down at the table and placed their hands upon it. The professor
sat with his back to the light, which fell full upon Luisa's face. The
little table was in the shadow. After eleven minutes of profound
silence, the professor murmured:

"It is beginning to move."

In fact the table was gradually leaning over to one side. Presently it
righted itself, and knocked once, lightly. Luisa's face brightened.

"Who are you?" said the professor. "Answer with the usual alphabet."

There came seventeen, then fourteen, then eighteen knocks, and then one
alone. "Rosa," said the professor softly. Rosa was a little sister of
his wife's who had died in infancy, and the table had knocked out this
name on several previous occasions. "Go away," said Gilardoni. "Send
Maria to us."

The table soon began to move again, and knocked out the words:

"It is I, Maria!"

"Maria, Maria, my own Maria!" whispered Luisa, her face assuming an
expression of intense joy.

"Do you know the contents of the letter your father has written to your
mother?" Gilardoni inquired.

The table answered:

"Yes."

"What is your mother to do?"

Luisa was trembling from head to foot in anxious suspense. The table did
not move.

"Answer," said the professor.

This time the table moved, but knocked out only an incomprehensible
confusion of letters.

"We do not understand. Repeat."

The little table did not move again. "Repeat, I tell you!" said the
professor, rather sharply.

"No, no!" begged Luisa. "Don't insist. Maria does not wish to answer."
But the professor was bound to insist. "It is not admissible that a
spirit should not answer. You know very well we have often before been
unable to understand what they said."

Luisa rose, greatly agitated, saying that rather than force Maria she
should prefer to cut the séance short. The professor remained seated,
lost in thought. "Hush!" said he at last.

The table moved and once more began to knock.

"Yes!" exclaimed Gilardoni, his face radiant. "I inquired mentally if
you should go, and the table has answered 'yes.' Now you yourself must
ask aloud."

Five or six minutes passed before the table began to move. In answer to
Luisa's question: "Shall I go?" there came first thirteen, then fourteen
knocks. The answer was "no."

The professor turned pale, and Luisa questioned him with her eyes. He
was silent for some time, and then said with a sigh:

"Perhaps it was not Maria. Perhaps it was a lying spirit."

"And how can we find out?" Luisa inquired anxiously.

"We cannot find out. It is impossible."

"Then how about the other communications? Is there never any certainty?"

"Never."

She lapsed into terrified silence. Then presently she murmured: "It was
bound to end thus. This also was to be taken from me."

She rested her forehead upon the table. The candle light fell upon her
hair, upon her arms and hands. She was motionless, nothing moved in the
room save the little flickering flame of the candle. Another little
flame, the last light of hope and of comfort, was dying out in this poor
head which had gone down before the onslaught of a bitter and invincible
doubt. What could Gilardoni do or say? He saw that Ester's wish would
soon be gratified, but not by his means. Three or four minutes later
they heard Ester's voice, and steps on the floor below. Luisa rose
slowly.

"Let us go," said she.

"Perhaps we should pray," Gilardoni observed without rising. "Perhaps we
should ask the spirits if they confess Christ."

"No, no, no!" Luisa exclaimed in an undertone, at the same time
protesting with a hostile gesture. The professor silently took up the
candle.

       *       *       *       *       *

On her way back to Oria Luisa went up to the gate of the cemetery.
Resting her forehead against it she sent a stifled good-bye towards
Maria's grave, then she went down the hill again. On reaching the
church-place she crossed over to the parapet and gazed down upon the
lake sleeping in the shadow. She stood there some time, letting her
thoughts roam at will. Placing her elbows on the parapet, she leaned
forward and rested her face upon her hands, still gazing at the water,
the water that had taken Maria. Her thoughts were beginning to take a
definite shape, not within her, but down there in the water. She
contemplated this shape. To die, to end it all! She was familiar with
the thought, she had seen it once before when gazing into the water
thus, long ago, before the experiments with the professor began. After
that it had disappeared. But now it had returned again. It was a sweet
and merciful thought, full of rest, of self-surrender, and of peace. It
was good to gaze upon it now that her faith in the spirits was gone
also. To die, to end it all! On that former occasion the image of her
old uncle had been strong in helping to dispel the fascination. Now it
was not so strong. Since Maria's death Uncle Piero had lapsed into a
state of almost complete silence which Luisa believed to be the
beginning of the apathy of old age. She did not understand that in the
old man's soul profound disapproval was mingled with grief, nor did she
understand how great was his aversion to these daily and repeated visits
to the cemetery, the flowers, the mysterious journeys to Casarico, and
above all, how he regretted her complete abandonment of the church. If
she had not been so engrossed in her dead child she might have
understood her uncle better, at least on this last point, the church,
for now the silent old man himself went to Mass oftener than before, his
heart returning to the religion of his father and mother, which,
heretofore, he had practised coldly, from habit, and out of respect for
family traditions. It seemed to Luisa that he had grown very dull, and
that if only his personal needs were attended to, he would be quite
content. Cia was there to attend to his comforts, and the means that had
sufficed for three would be more than sufficient for two. Luisa thought
she saw the water rise a hand's breadth. And Franco? Franco would be in
despair, would mourn for a few years, and then he would be happier than
ever. Franco knew the secret of speedy consolation. The water seemed to
rise another hand's breadth.

At the same moment in which she had approached the parapet, Franco,
passing the church of S. Francesco di Paolo in Via di Po, had seen
lights and heard the organ. He went in. Hardly had he said a short
prayer when the one dominant thought took possession of him once more;
the sound of the organ became the noise of trumpets and drums, the clash
of arms; and while a hymn of peace was rising from the altar, he, in
imagination, was furiously charging the enemy. Suddenly he saw before
his mind's eye the image of Luisa, pale, and dressed in mourning. He
began to think of her, to pray for her with intense fervour.

Then, standing there on the church-place of Oria, she turned cold and
was filled with dread, while the tempting thought gradually vanished.
She tried to recall it, but could not. The water subsided. An inward
voice said to her: "What if the professor be mistaken? What if it be not
true that the table answered first yes and then no? what if it be not
true about the lying spirits?" She drew back from the parapet, and with
slow steps, went up to her house.

She found her uncle in the kitchen sitting in the chimney-corner, the
tongs in his hand, and his glass of milk beside him. Cia and Leu were
sewing.

"Well," said Uncle Piero, "I have been to the Custom-House. The
Receiver is in bed with the jaundice, but I spoke with the
_Sedentario_."

"What about, uncle?"

"About Lugano. About your journey to Lugano on the twenty-fifth. He has
promised to close an eye and let you pass."

Luisa was silent, and stood thoughtfully watching the fire. Presently
she gave Leu some orders for the next day, and then begged her uncle to
come into the parlour with her.

"What for?" said he, with his habitual simplicity, "You can't have any
great secrets to tell. Let us stay here where the fire is."

Cia lit a candle. "We will go out," said she.

The uncle made his usual grimace, expressive of compassion for the
weaknesses of others, but remained silent. Draining his glass of milk,
he passed it to Luisa. She took the glass, and said softly: "I have not
decided yet."

"What?" the uncle exclaimed sharply. "What is it you have not decided?"

"Whether I shall go to Isola Bella."

"Now what the deuce----?"

Uncle Piero was utterly incapable of grasping such a thing as this.

"And why should you not go?"

She answered calmly, and as if stating a perfectly obvious fact:

"I am afraid I shall not be able to leave Maria."

"Oh, come now!" Uncle Piero exclaimed. "Sit down over there," and he
pointed to a bench in the chimney-corner opposite him. Then he said, in
that serious, honest voice of his, which seemed to come from his heart:

"My dear Luisa, you have lost your bearings!"

And raising his arms, he uttered a long "Ah!" and then let them fall
upon his knees once more.

"Lost your bearings completely!" he repeated. He sat silent for a time,
his head bent, while behind his pursed lips there was the rumbling of
words in course of formation, which presently burst forth.

"I would never have believed it! It does not seem possible! But when,"
and here he raised his head and looked Luisa straight in the face, "but
when we once begin to lose our bearings it is all up with us. And you,
my dear, began to lose yours a long time ago."

Luisa shuddered.

"Yes indeed!" Uncle Piero cried in a loud voice. "You began losing yours
a long time ago. And now this is what I wish to say to you. Listen. My
mother lost children, your mother lost children, I have seen many
mothers lose children, but not one of them acted as you act. What can
you expect? We are all mortal, and must adapt ourselves to our
circumstances. Other mothers become resigned, but you do not. And this
running two, three, and even four times a day to the cemetery! And the
flowers, and I know not what all besides! Oh, dear me! And all that
foolishness at Casarico with that other poor imbecile, which you think
is such a secret, while every one is talking of it, even Cia. Oh, dear
me!"

"No, uncle," said Luisa, sadly but calmly. "Don't talk of these things.
You cannot understand them."

"Exactly!" the uncle retorted with all the irony of which he was
capable. "I cannot understand! But there is something else. You no
longer go to church. I have never mentioned this to you because I have
always made it a rule to let people do as they like, but when I see you
losing your good sense, losing your common-sense even, the least I can
do is to remind you that this is all you do by turning your back on the
Almighty. And now this idea of not going to see your husband, under
similar circumstances! It is past belief. Well, well," he said after a
short pause, "I will go myself."

"You?" Luisa exclaimed.

"Why not? Yes, I. I had intended to accompany you, but if you will not
go I must take the journey alone. I will go and tell your husband that
you have lost your head, and that I hope I may soon be called to join
poor Maria."

No one had ever heard such bitter words from Uncle Piero's lips. Perhaps
it was for that reason, perhaps it was the authority of the man, perhaps
it was Maria's name pronounced in that way, but at any rate Luisa was
conquered.

"I will go," she said, "but you must stay here."

"Most certainly not!" cried Uncle Piero, greatly pleased. "It is forty
years since I saw the islands. I must avail myself of this opportunity.
And who knows but what I may enlist in the cavalry?"

       *       *       *       *       *

"Well?" said Cia, when the uncle had gone to bed. "Does my master really
intend to go? For the love of Heaven, don't let him, my dear!" And she
told Luisa that two hours before he had rolled his eyes in a strange
manner, letting his head sink upon his breast, and when she had called
to him he had not answered. Presently he had recovered, and had been
provoked at her anxious questions, protesting that he had not been ill,
that he had simply felt rather sleepy. Luisa listened to her, standing
with her candle in her hand, her eyes glassy, and her attention divided
between the words she was hearing and another very different thought, a
thought very far removed from Uncle Piero, from the house, from
Valsolda.



CHAPTER II

THE SUMMONS TO ARMS


On the morning of the twenty-fifth of February, the day fixed for their
journey, Uncle Piero rose at half-past seven, and went to the window. A
heavy, white fog hung over the lake, hiding the mountains so that they
appeared only as short black streaks, one on the right, the other on the
left, between the lake and the fog. "Alas!" the uncle sighed. He had not
finished dressing when Luisa came in, and using the unpleasant weather
as a pretext, once more begged him to remain at home, and let her go
alone. Cia was greatly distressed, and had entreated her to urge him not
to go, for she knew he had had an attack of giddiness on the twentieth,
and that on the twenty-second he had gone to confession without
mentioning it to any one. Seeing that he was growing impatient, Luisa
decided it would be wiser to desist, and let him have his own way. Poor
Uncle Piero, he had always enjoyed the best of health, and now he was
extremely apprehensive, and the slightest disturbance alarmed him. But
he did not feel that Luisa should be allowed to set out alone in her
present state of mind, and so he was going to sacrifice himself for
her. He finished dressing and returning to the window called out
triumphantly to Luisa, who was in the little garden below.

"Look up!" said he. "Look up at the Boglia!"

High up above Oria through the smoking fog, the pale gold of the sun
shining on the mountain could be seen, and still higher up all was clear
and transparent.

"Fair weather!"

Luisa did not reply, and the old man came down to the loggia in a
cheerful frame of mind, and went out to the terrace to enjoy the
magnificent struggle between fog and sun.

The stretch of water towards the east between the Ca Rotta, the last
house of S. Mamette on the left, and the gulf of the Doi on the right,
was one immense white sea. The Ca Rotta could just be distinguished,
coming out of the fog like some spectre. At the gulf of the Doi, the
narrow black streak of the mountains began, making a gap between the
leaden lake and the fog, which, little by little, was assuming a bluish
hue. Vague lights broke in the sky towards Osteno; at the end of the
eastern sea a new brightness trembled, streaks and spots, dark with the
breeze, were forming; the eye of the sun appeared and disappeared among
the whirling clouds above Osteno, until at last, growing rapidly larger,
it shone forth triumphant. The fog fled in all directions in sheets and
puffs, of which many sped past Oria, large and swift, while others cast
themselves upon the shore; but the largest rolled away into the far
east, where, behind and above a heavy white curtain, the mountains of
the lake of Como rose, glorious in the blue.

Uncle Piero called Luisa to witness the spectacle, the last splendid
scene of the drama, the triumph of the sun, the flight of the mists, the
glory of the hills. He admired nature in a simple manner, without the
refinement of the artistic sense, but with youthful ardour, and with the
ring of sincerity in his voice; his admiration was that of an old man
who has lived a life of purity, who has not exhausted the freshness of
his spirit, who still retains a certain simplicity of imagination.
"Look, Luisa!" he exclaimed, "we must indeed cry out, 'Glory be to the
Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost!'" Luisa did not answer, but went
quickly indoors, that she might not see that white enclosure beyond the
kitchen-garden that was drawing her so strongly, with its tacit cry of
reproach and grief. She had gone there that morning at six o'clock, and
had remained an hour, seated on the wet grass.

The uncle remained on the terrace lost in contemplation until the moment
of departure arrived. Had he been a vain poet he might have imagined
that Valsolda was offering him this farewell spectacle to speed him on
his way; that she wished to show herself more beautiful than he had,
perhaps, ever seen her before. However, these poetic fancies did not
come to him, and, besides, his journey was to be so short. But the image
of Maria came to him instead; he saw her running round him, he took her
upon his knee, and repeated the old rhyme to her:

    Proud shade of the river
    Of Missipipì----

"Enough!" he sighed. "It was a terrible thing!" and in answer to a
summons from Cia he went slowly towards the little garden where Luisa
was awaiting him, ready to go down to the boat. "Here I am," said he.
"And you, Cia, be careful not to let the house tumble into the lake
while we are away!"

       *       *       *       *       *

During the journey on Lake Maggiore on board the _San Bernardino_, Luisa
remained in the second-class cabin most of the time. She went on deck
once to try and persuade Uncle Piero to go below also, but, although the
wind was cold, Uncle Piero, wrapped in his heavy grey travelling cloak,
would not stir from the deck, where he sat calmly watching the hills and
villages, and chatting with a priest from Locarno, with a little old
woman from Belgirate, and with other second-class passengers. Luisa was
obliged to leave him there, while she herself went below again,
preferring to be alone with her own thoughts. As they approached Isola
Bella a sense of inward excitement and a vague foreboding of many
things took possession of her. How would the meeting with Franco take
place? How would he treat her? Would he repeat Uncle Piero's sermon to
her? His letters were indeed always compassionate and tender, but who
does not know that we write in one way and speak in another? How and
where would they spend the evening? And then that other question, that
question it so terrified her to think about----? All these anxious
thoughts were rising higher and higher, threatening to become dominant,
to place themselves in bold opposition to that image of the cemetery of
Oria, which from time to time would return with impetuous violence, as
if to snatch back its own. At the station of Cannero, Luisa heard the
noise of many steps and of loud talking above her head, and went
upstairs to look after her uncle. A party of soldiers, recalled to
service, had come out to the steamer in two large barges. Other small
boats bore women, children, and old men, who were crying and waving
good-bye. The soldiers, most of whom were _Bersaglieri_, fine jolly
young fellows, answered the greeting with shouts of "Hurrah for Italy!"
and made promises of presents from Milan. One old woman, all
dishevelled, but tearless, had three sons among those soldiers, and was
calling out to them to remember our Lord and the Madonna. "Yes, yes,"
grumbled an old sergeant who was escorting them, "Remember our Lord, and
the Madonna, and the Bishop, and don't forget the _prevosto_, the
parish priest!" The soldiers, who were well acquainted with the
_prevosto_, or military prison, laughed loudly at the joke, as the
steamer started forward. There were cries, and waving of handkerchiefs,
and then the men burst into song, a song shouted by fifty strong voices.

    Addio, mia bella, addio,
    L'armata se ne va.

The soldiers were all clustered together at the prow, among piles of
bags and barrels, some sitting, some lying down, others standing, and
all singing at the top of their voices to the dull accompaniment of the
paddles as the steamer glided straight towards that background of sky,
against which rose the pointed hills of Ispra, dividing the immense
expanse of water from the Ticino beyond. The young men would soon be
crossing the Ticino, probably to the cry of "Savoy for ever!" and amidst
the fury of cannonading. Death was awaiting many of them down there
under that clear sky, but all sang gaily, and only the dull noise of the
paddles seemed to be aware of their fate. The free hills of Piedmont,
past which the boat was gliding, although they stood in the shadow,
seemed to shine with pride and satisfaction at having given their sons
to the captive hills of Lombardy, which wore an air of tragedy, although
illumined by the sun. Luisa felt her blood begin to tingle, felt her
once ardent patriotism begin to stir. And those mothers who had seen
their sons depart thus? She foresaw whither her thoughts were tending,
and hastened to assure herself that she also would gladly have given a
son to Italy, that the grief of those mothers could not in any way be
compared to hers. But what a difference there was between reading a
letter in Valsolda, telling of the war, and feeling the very breath,
hearing the very noise of war all about her, feeling it in the air
itself! In the quiet of Valsolda, war was a shadow without substance;
here the shadow became incarnate. Here Luisa's personal grief, that
immense grief which filled the lifeless air surrounding her in Oria,
seemed to shrink before the emotion of many, and her consciousness of
this gave her an indefinable sense of discomfort and trouble. Was it the
dread of losing a part of her own grief, a part, as it were, of herself?
Was it the desire to escape from a comparison from which she shrank? At
the same time the idea that Franco was going to this war, the idea that
had affected her so slightly in Valsolda, was now assuming a new aspect
of reality in her mind, was making her heart quiver, and it also was
wrestling with the image of the cemetery of Oria. For the first time
this image of the past was no longer the one, all-powerful master of her
soul, and although her soul was indignant and regretful, new images,
images of the present and of the future, were assailing it.

Uncle Piero began to feel cold and came down to the cabin.

"In little more than an hour we shall be at Isola Bella," said he.

"Are you tired?"

"Not in the least. I feel wonderfully well."

"But nevertheless, you will go to bed early to-night?"

The uncle, whose thoughts were wandering, did not answer, but presently
he exclaimed: "Do you know what I was thinking? I was thinking that now
there ought to be another Maria."

Luisa, who was sitting beside him, sprang up shuddering, and went to the
little window opposite, standing with her back to Uncle Piero, who did
not understand in the least, and, concluding she was embarrassed, went
to sleep in his corner. The steamer touched at Intra. Now there was only
Pallanza before Isola. They were skirting the coast; through the little
oval window Luisa could see the banks, the houses, the trees slipping
by. How fast the boat was gliding, how fast!

Pallanza. The steamer stopped five minutes.

Luisa went on deck and inquired when they would reach Isola Bella. They
would not stop either at Suna or Baveno, so it was a question of only a
few minutes now. And when would the steamer from Arona arrive? The
steamer from Arona appeared to be late. She went below once more to
awaken Uncle Piero, who presently came on deck with her. The last part
of the journey was accomplished in silence. The uncle watched Pallanza,
which they were leaving behind, while Luisa had fixed her gaze on Isola
Bella, which they were rapidly approaching, and she saw nothing else.

The boat reached the landing-stage at Isola Bella at forty minutes past
three. There was no sign of the steamer from Arona. A porter told Luisa
that it was always late now because the train from Novara was never on
time, owing to the movement of troops. No one else went ashore at Isola,
no one was on the beach save the attendant at the landing-stage. When
the boat had left, he himself conducted the two travellers to the
_Albergo del Delfino_. He said it was a mere chance their finding the
hotel open at this season. A large family were spending the winter
there. They were English people. Indeed, it seemed the Island of
Silence. The lake lay about it, motionless and silent, the shore was
deserted, no living being was to be seen in the porches of the poor
little houses clustered together about the bay, between one of the round
bastions of the gardens and the hotel. The English people had gone out
in a boat; the hotel was as silent as the shore and the water. The new
arrivals were given two large rooms on the second floor, both of which
faced south, and overlooked the melancholy strait between the island and
the wooded strip of coast that runs from Stressa to Baveno. The first
room was on the western corner of the house, and its window looked out
on the little church of S. Vittore, which rises beside the hotel, and
upon the small Isola dei Pescatori in the distance. Uncle Piero planted
himself at the window contemplating the little island, the little pile
of houses rising out of the mirror of the lake and culminating in a
campanile; the great mountains of Val di Toce and Val di Gravellone,
half hidden in a thin mist through which the sun was shining. Luisa,
seeing that the room contained two beds, hastened to the other room,
where an alcove also held two beds. "There," said Uncle Piero, coming
in, a moment later, "this will do nicely for you two." Luisa asked the
proprietor, in an undertone, if they could not have three rooms instead
of two. No, it was impossible. "But this is all right," Uncle Piero
repeated. "This is a perfect arrangement. You take this room, and I will
have the other." Luisa was silent, and the proprietor withdrew. "Don't
you see you have an alcove, just as at home?" It never struck the simple
old man that the very sight of that alcove was a torment to Luisa. She
told him she preferred the other room, which was lighter and more
cheerful. "Amen!" said the uncle. "Do as you like. I am quite willing to
be alcoved."

This corner of the hotel soon lapsed into silence once more. Luisa
posted herself at the window. The boat from Arona must be very near now;
the man who had accompanied them to the hotel was walking slowly towards
the landing-stage, and in a few minutes she heard the noise of the
paddles in the distance. Uncle Piero told Luisa he was tired, and
remained in his room.

She went down towards the landing-stage and stopped behind a small house
that hid the boat from view, but she could hear it distinctly. Suddenly
the prow of the _San Gottardo_ glided slowly in front of her and
stopped. Luisa recognised her husband in the midst of a noisy group.
Franco saw her, and springing ashore, ran towards her, while she came
forward a few steps to meet him. They embraced, he speechless and blind
with emotion, laughing and crying, full of gratitude, but uncertain as
to her state of mind, as to how he should regulate his conduct; she more
composed, extremely pale, and serious. "God bless you! God bless you!"
he kept repeating, as they turned towards the hotel. Then Franco
overwhelmed her with questions, first about her journey and the passing
of the frontier, and then about Uncle Piero. When he mentioned the
uncle, Luisa raised her head and said: "Look!" The old man was at the
window waving his handkerchief and calling out his welcome in a ringing
voice. "Oh!" cried Franco in amazement, and he ran forward.

Uncle Piero was waiting for him on the landing, his face wearing an
expression of satisfaction that seemed to spread all over his peaceful
breast. "How are you, my boy?" said he, taking both his hands and
shaking them heartily, but, nevertheless, holding him at a distance. He
did not want kisses, feeling that at such a moment they would mean
thanks; but he could not hold out against Franco's impetuosity. "Did you
fancy a lady of the house of Maironi could travel without a courier?"
said he, when he had extricated himself from the young man's arms.
"Moreover, I came to enlist in the _Bersaglieri_!" And the man who had
said he was tired started downstairs, saying he was going to order
dinner.

There was no sofa in their room. Franco drew Luisa to a seat on the bed,
and sat down beside her, encircling her shoulders with his arm. He could
not talk to her, could only keep on repeating: "I thank you! I thank
you!" as he lavished eager caresses, eager kisses, and tender names upon
her. Luisa did not respond in any way, but trembled violently with bowed
head. Presently he checked himself, and, taking her head in his hands
like some sacred thing, fell to touching with his lips the white hairs
he saw here and there. She knew he was searching out the white hairs,
understood those timid kisses, and was moved. She felt her heart of ice
melting, and, seized with terror, struggled to defend herself more
against her own emotions than against Franco. "You don't know," she
said, "how cold my heart is. I did not even want to come, did not want
to leave Maria or give you the pain of finding me in this state. But I
came on Uncle Piero's account. He was determined to set out alone, and
that I could not allow."

When she had pronounced these cruel words she felt Franco's lips
withdrawn from her hair, felt his arm forsake her shoulders. Both were
silent for a time, then Franco murmured with great gentleness:

"Only thirteen hours more. Then perhaps I shall never trouble you
again." At that moment Uncle Piero entered and announced that dinner was
ready. Luisa took her husband's hand and pressed it in silence; it was
not a lover-like pressure, but it told him she shared his emotion.

At dinner neither Franco nor Luisa could eat. But the uncle had a good
appetite, and talked a great deal. He did not approve of Franco's
enlisting. "What sort of a soldier do you expect to become?" said he.
"What will you do without your camphor, your sedative water, and all the
rest?"

Franco replied that he had cast aside all remedies, that he felt as if
he were of steel, and that he should become the most robust soldier of
the whole ninth regiment. "Maybe," the uncle grumbled, "maybe. And you,
Luisa, what do you say about it?" Luisa believed it would be as her
husband had said. "Then that is enough!" the uncle cried. "And so,
hurrah!" He had a great opinion of the strength of Austria, and did not
view matters in the same rosy light as did Franco. According to Franco
there was not the slightest doubt that the Italians would be victorious.
He had seen one of Niel's adjutants, who had come to Turin on a secret
mission, and had heard him say to some staff officers: "_Nous allons
supprimer l'Autriche!_" Of course they fully expected to leave at least
fifty thousand Italians and Frenchmen between the Ticino and the Isonzo.

"Excuse me, Signori," said the waiter who was serving them, "but did the
gentlemen speak of enlisting in the ninth regiment?"

"Yes."

"The Queen's Brigade! A splendid brigade! I served in the tenth. We
covered ourselves with glory in 1848, as you may remember. Goito, Santo
Lucia, Governolo, and Volta. Now it will be your turn."

"We will do our best."

Luisa shuddered slightly. The English people, who were dining at a table
near them, heard this dialogue and looked at Franco. For some minutes no
one in the room spoke; there passed before them the vision of a column
of infantry charging with fixed bayonets, amidst a shower of grapeshot.

After dinner the uncle remained at the hotel for his usual nap, and
Franco went out with Luisa. They turned to the right towards the Palace.
It was rather dark and a few infrequent drops of rain were falling. The
steps leading from the shore to the courtyard of the villa were
slippery, and Franco offered his arm to his wife, who took it in
silence. They stopped between the deserted courtyard and the stairs that
lead to the landing-stage, to count the hours which the clock on the
Palace was ringing out. Six o'clock. Two hours had passed, and there now
remained only eleven before the separation, before the unknown! They
walked on slowly and silently, following the straight path between the
lake and the side of the Palace, as far as the corner which commands a
view of the Isola dei Pescatori, where some lights were already visible.
Two women came towards them, chattering, and walking arm in arm. Franco
allowed them to pass, and then asked his wife if she remembered the
Rancò.

Two years before their marriage they had made an excursion with a party
of friends to Drano and the Rancò, high pasture-lands of the Valsolda,
on the way to the Passo Stretto. They had had a lively dispute, and had
sulked and suffered for an hour. "Yes," Luisa replied, "I remember." At
the same moment both realised how different was the present hour, and
how painful it was to have to admit the difference. They did not speak
again until they reached the corner. Bells rang out on the Isola dei
Pescatori. Franco dropped his wife's arm, and leaned upon the parapet.
The misty lake was silent; nothing was to be seen save the lights on the
other island. The lake, the mist, those lights, those bells, which might
have belonged to a ship lost at sea, the silence of all things, even the
infrequent, tiny rain-drops, everything was so sad!

"And do you remember afterwards?" Franco murmured, without turning his
head. Luisa was also leaning against the parapet. She was silent for a
moment, and then answered in an undertone:

"Yes, dear."

And in her "dear," there was a slight and hidden beginning of warmth, of
affectionate emotion. Franco felt it, and thrilled with joy, but
controlled himself.

"I am thinking," he went on, "of the letter I wrote you as soon as I got
home, and of the three words you said to me next day, at Muzzaglio, when
the others were dancing under the chestnut-trees, and you passed close
to me on your way to get your shawl, which you had left on the grass. Do
you remember?"

"Yes."

He took her hand and raised it to his lips.

"And do you also remember that I slipped before we reached the bridge,
and that you said: 'My dear sir, it is your place to support me!'"

Luisa did not answer, but pressed his hands.

"I have been good for nothing," he added sadly. "I have not known how to
support you."

"You have done all you could."

Luisa's voice, as she spoke these words, was indeed faint, but very
different from when she had said: "My heart is so cold."

Once more her husband drew her arm through his, and they returned to the
landing-stage. The dear arm was less passive than before, and betrayed
agitation and a struggle. Franco stopped, and said softly:

"And if I am called to join Maria? What shall I say to her from you?"

She began to tremble, and resting her head on his shoulder, whispered:
"No, stay here!" Franco did not hear the words, and repeated: "What?"
There was no answer, and very slowly he bent his head towards her, saw
her lips seeking his, and pressed his own upon them. His heart was
beating fast, faster than when he had kissed Luisa for the first time as
her lover. He raised his head, but could not speak. At last he succeeded
in saying these words: "I will tell her you have promised----" "No,"
murmured Luisa, in great distress. "I cannot do that. You must not ask
it of me! It is no longer possible!"

"What is not possible?"

"Oh, you understand quite well! I also understood what you meant!"

She started forward as if to flee from the subject, but still clinging
to Franco's arm, and he held her back.

"Luisa," said he gravely, almost severely, "will you let me go away like
this? Do you realise what it means to me to go away like this?"

Then she slowly withdrew her arm from his, and turned towards the
parapet on the right, leaning upon it, and gazing into the water as she
had done that night at Oria. Franco stood quietly beside her; waited a
few moments, and then begged her to answer his question.

"It would be better for me to end it all in the lake," she said
bitterly. Her husband passed his arm round her waist, pulled her away
from the parapet, and then letting her go, threw up his arm with a
gesture of protest. "You!" said he indignantly. "You talk thus? You who
used to prate of looking upon life as a battle? And is this the way you
fight? Once I believed you were the stronger of us two. Now I know it is
I who am the stronger. Much the stronger! Can you not even imagine what
I have suffered during all these years? Can you not----" For a moment
his voice failed him, but he quickly controlled himself and went on.
"Can you not even understand what you are to me, and what I would give
to be able to spare you the slightest pain? While you, it would seem, do
not care how cruelly you rend my soul!" She flung herself into his arms.
In the silence that ensued, broken only by her spasmodic and suppressed
sobbing, Franco heard steps approaching, and with difficulty freed
himself from her embrace and induced her to turn with him towards the
hotel. "You naughty girl!" he whispered. "And it is you who don't want
me to be glad to die, when I can die so gloriously for my country!"
Luisa pressed his arm without speaking. They met two young lovers, who
looked curiously at them in passing. The girl smiled. When they reached
the short flight of steps that leads down to the little square in front
of S. Vittore, they heard voices of women and girls. Luisa paused a
moment on the first step, and said softly the three words she had spoken
at Muzzaglio.

"I love you!"

Franco did not answer, but pressed her arm. Very slowly they went down
the stairs, and entered the Albergo del Delfino.

       *       *       *       *       *

Some young men who were drinking, smoking, and laughing, rose as Franco
and Luisa entered, and came towards them. "Signora," said the first to
present himself to Luisa, "your husband has probably announced to you
the visit of the Seven Wise Men." A great hubbub immediately ensued,
because Franco had forgotten to tell Luisa that his friends had
accompanied him from Turin, but, not wishing to intrude, had gone on to
Pallanza promising to come and pay their respects to the Signora in the
evening. They had come over from Pallanza in a row-boat, and had
intended returning immediately, but Franco ordered a couple of bottles
of wine and, soon, in spite of Luisa's presence, their hilarity became
such that the proprietor begged them, for love of his English family, to
make less noise.

After arranging with Franco to meet him in the morning on board the
first steamer, the Wise Men took themselves off. Franco accompanied
them to the boat and Luisa went to look after Uncle Piero. He had left
word for them with the proprietor that, feeling very sleepy, he had gone
to bed. In fact Luisa could hear him snoring noisily. She put the candle
down, and waited for Franco.

He came up almost immediately, and was surprised to hear that the uncle
was already asleep. He had wished to say good-bye to him before going to
bed, as his boat was leaving so early in the morning--at half-past five.
The door between the two rooms was closed, but nevertheless Luisa begged
her husband to step and speak softly. She told him what Cia had confided
to her. The uncle needed rest. She hoped he would remain in bed until
nine or ten o'clock, and she intended to start at one, and spend the
night at Magadino, in order not to tire him too much. She laid great
stress upon her apprehensions concerning Uncle Piero's health, and
talked incessantly, nervously, anxious to avoid other topics, seeking
thus to escape too tender caresses. At the same time she was continually
moving about the room, repeatedly taking up and putting down the same
objects, and this partly from nervousness, partly with the intention
that her husband should go to bed before her. He, for his part, was
intent upon a side-bag, which he was finding difficulty in opening. At
last he succeeded, and, calling his wife to him, gave her a roll
containing fifty twenty-franc pieces. "I know," said he, "that I shall
not be able to send you anything for some months. This money is not
mine, I have borrowed it." Then he drew a sealed letter from his pocket.
"And this," he added, "is my will. I have little to leave, but of course
I must dispose of that little. I have made only one legacy. My father's
scarf-pin, which you have, is to go to Uncle Piero. I have also set down
the name of the person who loaned me the thousand francs. Besides the
will the letter contains a few words for you alone. That is all." He
spoke with grave sweetness, and without agitation. Her hands trembled as
she took the letter. "Thank you," she said, and began to unbraid her
hair, but she immediately twisted it up again, hardly conscious of what
she was doing, in her struggle with the phantom of the dead child, and
with another vision of war and death. She said brokenly that, as she
must be up so early to accompany Franco to the boat, she thought she
would lie down with her clothes on, and not loosen her hair. Franco made
no comment, but having said a short prayer, began to undress. From his
neck he unclasped a little chain from which hung a small gold cross.
This had belonged to his mother. "I wish you to keep this," said he,
offering it to Luisa. "It will be safer. It might, perhaps, fall into
the hands of the Croatians." She was horrified, she shuddered, hesitated
a moment, then threw her arms about his neck, and pressed him to her in
a passionate embrace.

       *       *       *       *       *

The waiter knocked at their door at about half-past four. At five Franco
took the candle and went into Uncle Piero's room. He was already awake.
Franco said good-bye to him, and then proposed to Luisa that they also
take leave of each other in the privacy of their own room. In her face
and voice there was an expression of grave and painful stupor. She
displayed no agitation, and did not weep, but embraced and kissed her
husband as one in a dream, and, still in a dazed state, followed him
downstairs. Did a flash from the thought that was filling her soul pass
into his? If so, it happened in the little hotel parlour, while he was
taking his coffee, his wife seated opposite him. He seemed suddenly to
discover something in that glance, in that expression, for he paused to
study her, cup in hand, while ineffable tenderness, anxiety and emotion
overspread his face. She evidently had no wish to speak, but he longed
to do so. A hidden word quivered in all the muscles of his face, and
shone in his eyes, but his mouth did not venture to utter it.

Hand in hand they went down to the landing-stage, and leaned against the
wall where Luisa had leaned the day before. When they heard the noise of
the paddles, they embraced for the last time and said good-bye without
tears, troubled rather by the hidden thought harboured by both than
afflicted by the separation. The steamer came in noisily, the ropes were
flung ashore and made fast. A bell rang. One kiss more! "God bless you!"
said Franco, and hurried on board.

She lingered as long as she could hear the noise of the paddles, as the
steamer glided towards Stressa. Then she returned to the hotel, sank
upon the bed, and sat there as one turned to stone, engrossed in the
idea, in the instinctive certainty, that maternity awaited her a second
time.

Although this was precisely what she had so greatly feared it cannot be
said that now she was grieved. All other sentiments were subdued by the
wonder of listening to a strong, inward voice, that was so clear and
still so inexplicable. She was dazed. Since Maria's death she had firmly
believed that the Book of Destiny could contain nothing new for her,
that certain secret fibres of her heart were dead. And now a mysterious
voice was speaking within that heart, saying: Know that one page in the
book of your destiny is finished, and the leaf has been turned. For you
there is still a future of intense living. The drama that you believed
had come to an end at the second act, is to continue, and if I Myself
announce it to you, it must indeed prove wonderful!

For three hours, until Uncle Piero called her, she sat there, absorbed
in this voice.

The uncle rose at half-past nine; he was feeling very well. The weather
was still damp, almost rainy, but he would not hear of remaining in the
house until it was time to start for Magadino, as Luisa wished him to
do. He knew, for he had inquired of the proprietor, that the gardens
could be visited after nine o'clock, so at ten he drank his milk and
then started out to visit them with Luisa. When they passed S. Vittore
he wished to go in and see the paintings. Mass was being sung, and at
that moment the officiating priest turned towards them and said
_Benedicat vos omnipotens Deus_. Uncle Piero crossed himself devoutly,
and lingered to hear the last gospel. He did not attempt to examine the
paintings, for there was little light in the church, but said with his
accustomed cheerfulness: "Now that I have received that blessing I feel
quite happy!"

It was not possible to hurry in his company. He stopped at every step,
examining everything that seemed artistic, everything that was in a
position to be examined. He studied the front of the church, the triple
stairway of the landing-stage of Villa Borromeo, all three sides of the
courtyard, and the great palm in the centre, which he was much
scandalised to learn Luisa had not even noticed when she had passed it
the night before with Franco. When the custodian ushered them into the
palace, it took the uncle at least ten minutes to climb and admire the
great stairway. As they reached the top a ray of sun glinted forth, and
the custodian proposed that they should take advantage of this and visit
the gardens. He turned to the left and led the visitors through a suite
of empty rooms to the iron gate, where he rang the bell. A gardener
appeared, a civil lad, to whom Uncle Piero took a great fancy, for he
explained everything willingly, and the uncle's questions were not few.
The camphor-tree near the entrance cost him five minutes. Luisa was
distressed, for she feared the uncle would tire himself too much, and
she herself was weary of looking at so many trees, of hearing so many
names, both Latin and Italian, and of having to watch the uncle, while
her thoughts called for silence and solitude. The gardener proposed
going up to the Castello di Nettuno. Uncle Piero would have liked to
inspect more closely the unicorn of the Borromei, which stood rampant up
there, but there were many stairs to climb, the air was heavy, and he
hesitated. Luisa took advantage of that moment of hesitation to ask the
gardener where she might find a seat. "Just below here," said he. "On
the left, where the _Strobus_ are." Uncle Piero finally consented to go
down and visit the clump of _Strobus_.

He was tired, but he continued to look at everything, to ask questions
about everything. As they walked towards the _Strobus_ they heard in the
distance, over towards Isola Madre, the rolling of the drums of the
National Guard of Pallanza, which was drilling on the shore. "Now it is
all play," said the young man. "Not exactly play, but.... Next month we
shall go to work in earnest. We have a lesson to give to a huge beast.
There it is, over there, the monster!" The monster was the Austrian war
steamer _Radetzky_, called by the inhabitants of the Piedmontese shore,
_el Radescòn_. "The ship is just entering the bay of Laveno," said the
young fellow, "coming from Luino. Come this way if you wish to see her
plainly."

Uncle Piero knew his eyes were not strong enough to see the steamer, so
he sat down on the first bench he found under the _Strobus_, which stood
just in front of a group of bamboos, and was flanked by two groups of
large azaleas. Behind the bamboos, between the great twisted trunks of
the _Strobus_, he could see the mirror of white water trembling as far
as the black line of the hills of Ispra. The sky, dark towards the
north, was clear in that quarter. Luisa and the gardener went to the
gate which bears the coat of arms, and which faces the green Isola
Madre, Pallanza, and the upper lake. Luisa looked out over the immense
expanse of leaden water, crowned by misty giants from the Sasso di Ferro
group above Laveno to the mountains of Maccagno, and to the distant
snows of the Splügen. The smoke of the _Radetzky_ was more plainly
visible than its body, and the drums of Pallanza were still rolling.
Uncle Piero called the gardener and Luisa went to lean against the
parapet beside the gate, and near the yew-tree that rises from the
terrace below. The tree shut out the view on the east. She was glad to
be alone at last, to rest her eyes and her thoughts on the grey of the
great mountains and of the great waters. Presently the gardener came
back to point out to her the yellow acacias and the white heather that
were blossoming on the lower terrace. "The _bruyères blanches_ bring
luck," said he. Seeing that Luisa was lost in thought, and did not heed
him, he started towards the hot-house containing the begonias. "An old
_Strobus_," said he, speaking in a loud voice that the visitors might
hear him, but without looking around, "An old _Strobus_ that has been
struck by lightning. If you wish to visit the private gardens----"

Luisa turned from the parapet and went to fetch the uncle, and give him
her arm if necessary. The gardener, who was waiting at the entrance of
the little grove of laurels, saw her start towards the old gentleman,
who was still sitting on the bench, saw her quicken her pace and then
rush to his side with a cry.

Like the innocent and aged tree Uncle Piero also had been struck down.
His body was resting against the back of the bench, his head had fallen
forward, and his chin touched his breast. His eyes were open, fixed and
expressionless. It had indeed been a farewell spectacle his beloved
Valsolda had offered him the day before. Uncle Piero, the dear,
venerable, old man, wise, upright, and fatherly, the benefactor of his
own people, Uncle Piero was gone, gone forever. He had come to enlist,
but God had called him to a higher service; the bugle had sounded, and
he had answered the call. The drums of Pallanza still rolled, rolled for
the end of the old world, and rolled for the advent of the new. In
Luisa's womb there lay a vital germ which was preparing to fight the
battles of a new era, preparing to taste other joys, other griefs than
those which the man of the old world was leaving thus peacefully,
blessed unconsciously, at the last moment, by that strange priest of
Isola Bella, who had, perhaps, never uttered the holy words to one more
worthy.



         _A Selection from the
             Catalogue of_

          G. P. PUTNAM'S SONS

       Complete Catalogues sent
            on application



"Signor Fogazzaro is at the present moment undoubtedly the greatest of
Italian novelists. His nobility of feeling, his wide sympathy, his
kindliness and breezy humor entitle him to a high place among writers of
fiction."--

                        From Villari's "Italian Life."


          The Trilogy of Rome

                  BY

           ANTONIO FOGAZZARO


             The Patriot

    PICCOLO MONDO ANTICO _Crown 8vo. $1.50_

A picture of "the little ancient world" of Vasolda in the troubled
period of 1848-49, when the "spirit of patriotism mourned its fiercest."
The book is a wonderful portrayal of the social life of the period.


              The Sinner

    PICCOLO MONDO MODERNO _Crown 8vo. $1.50_

An impassioned love story involving faithful pictures of the life of the
Italian world of fashion and introducing the character that becomes the
central figure of _The Saint_.


               The Saint

     IL SANTO _Crown 8vo. $1.50_

"An exceptional, remarkable, profoundly interesting work. It is eloquent
with intense earnestness, with a deep-rooted sense of a duty to perform,
a fervent message to deliver. You lay it aside with an abiding sense of
having read something eminently worth while, something very genuine and
sincere."--_The Bookman._


         "_A Remarkable Book_"

            SAN CELESTINO

           BY JOHN AYSCOUGH

    Author of "MAROTZ," "DROMINA," etc.

In form, it is almost exactly like a novel with frequent conversations,
and going, in minor matters at least, far beyond the record of history.
The narrative opens with Petruccio as a child in the home of his
parents, who belong to the minor nobility of the Abruzzi. It follows his
career at Salerno, where he attended the University as a lonely figure
making few friends. Afterwards he became a hermit and the story tells
how disciples gathered round him, beginning with two worldly young men
who had known him at Salerno. The Order of the Celestines thus founded
grew in numbers and importance through fifty quiet years, when the cal
swiftly and dramatically--the poor simple old man dragged weeping from
his hermit's cave and borne to the triumph from which he shrank in
horror,--the miserable weeks in Rome, touching examples of his
simplicity and guilelessness. Then the peace which came with the
renunciation, and his last days passed quite happily as a captive in a
prison cell.

         _Crown 8vo. $1.50_


"One of the most striking novels of the year."--_British Weekly._

                MAROTZ

            By John Ayscough

A story of the present day, containing vivid word pictures of Southern
Italian and Sicilian life, written by a distinguished Catholic. The
passionate peoples of the South, tempered by the sweet influences of
religion, despite science and modernity, are depicted with great
fidelity. It is safe to say that no truer account of Convent life has
ever been printed.

  "A literary masterpiece."--_The Observer._

        _Crown octavo. $1.50_


_Alluring Novels for Summer Reading_

    HENRY OF NAVARRE      By May Wynne
    A Romance of August, 1572

  _Frontispiece_ by H. M. Brock.

_Listed as one of the six best selling novels in England._

"Vividly and vigorously recounted, the dialogue is brisk and ingenious,
the plot well contrived, and action swift and skilfully managed."--_N.
Y. Sun._ Crown 8vo. $1.50


    JUDITH of the CUMBERLANDS      By Alice MacGowan

     Author of "The Last Word," "Return," "Huldah," etc. _With Six
     Full-Page Illustrations in Color_ by George Wright.

"A book that combines historical value with so good a story is a book to
be praised."--_N. Y. Times._

  "An admirable tale."--_The Outlook._ Crown 8vo. $1.50


    PRINCESS NADINE      By Christian Reid

     Author of "The Chase of an Heiress," "The Man of the Family,"
     etc. _With Frontispiece in Colors_ by John Edwin Jackson.

"A dramatic and splendid piece of fiction, the love element is
delicately treated, while it sparkles with wit and is captivating in
style."--_Buffalo Courier._ Crown 8vo. $1.50


    FRATERNITY      By John Galsworthy

"It has warmth and color, and that spiritual exaltation of insight into
the heart of humanity which is one of the attributes of genius. In
conception and in execution _Fraternity_ must be justly termed _a great
novel_."--_N. Y. Times._ Crown 8vo. Fixed price, $1.35 net (by mail,
$1.50)


    PLAYS      By John Galsworthy
    THE SILVER BOX--JOY--STRIFE

"By the power of his conceptions John Galsworthy must be recognized as a
distinctive and important figure among the younger English novelists.
Still in his thirties, he is nevertheless a master."--_Chicago Evening
Post._

    Crown 8vo. Fixed price, $1.35 net


    DROMINA      By John Ayscough

"Spacious in scope, splendid in vigor and coloring, and rich in human
feeling and sentiment ... the whole romance thrills and glows with a
real and splendid effect of life, and I commend it heartily."--_Dundee
Advertiser._

    Crown 8vo. $1.50


    MAROTZ      By John Ayscough

    "One of the most striking novels of the year."--_British
    Weekly._        Crown 8vo. $1.50


                 The
            Trilogy of Rome

                  By
           ANTONIO FOGAZZARO
    "_The Greatest of Italian Novelists_"

       (Authorized American Editions)

           1. The Patriot
                 (Piccolo Mondo Antico)

           2. The Sinner
                 (Piccolo Mondo Moderno)

           3. The Saint
                 (Il Santo)

    The first of these romances is an impassioned
    story of lovers struggling to break the barriers
    of aristocratic prejudice that oppose their marriage.
    It is also a story of patriotism--of the freeing of
    Italy from the Austrian yoke.

    In _The Sinner_, the second book of this Trilogy,
    we read the dramatic story of Piero Maironi, the
    son of the hero of _The Patriot_, and of his love for
    the beautiful Jeanne Dessalle,--a story that presents
    a vivid picture of the Italian world of rank
    and fashion, and involves, too, a study of political
    and ecclesiastical life.

    In _The Saint_, the concluding novel in the series,
    the hero of _The Sinner_ and the lover of Jeanne
    Dessalle appears as a penitent full of religious
    zeal that finds a double outlet--in asceticism
    and works of mercy and in an attempt to reform
    the Church of Rome from within.


         G. P. PUTNAM'S SONS

       New York          London



       *       *       *       *       *



Transcriber's note:

   The table of contents corresponds to a different edition.

   The footnotes have been moved to the end of the respective chapters.

   Obvious punctuation errors have been corrected.

   Archaic and inconsistent hyphenation was retained as printed.

   Page 3 "once" replaces "one" (the voice groaned one more)

   Page 40 "plena" replaces "piena" (Ave Maria, gratia piena)

   Page 444 removed repeated word "the the" (Meanwhile Pedraglio
   explored the the kitchen...)

   Page 445 "he" replaces "be" (Then be began rapidly collecting ...)





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